The August launch of PanAmSat’s Galaxy 14 telecommunications satellite aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket was delayed for months because of unexpected complications in getting the requisite U.S. export licenses, according to industry officials involved with the launch.
Officials from the companies involved — PanAmSat Holding of Wilton, Conn., and satellite builder Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. — said they expect that future Soyuz launches will be conducted more quickly, if not with less red tape.
“This was a first for us, and we learned a lot,” said Brian Sing, mission manager for launch services at PanAmSat. “There were a lot of things we didn’t know going in, and we fully expect to put it all to use in the future. But there were difficulties we hadn’t counted on.”
Sing said the government paperwork involved in the Galaxy 14 launch ultimately was responsible for about six months of the 12-month launch delays in the program, with the remaining delay caused by a component alert on Orbital’s Star 2 satellite platform.
Sing was part of a PanAmSat delegation at Europe’s equatorial spaceport here for the launch of Galaxy 15, a satellite similar to Galaxy 14. Galaxy 15 was successfully launched Oct. 13 by a European Ariane 5 rocket.
When the contract was signed, Galaxy 14 was expected to be launched in late 2003 or early 2004.
Ali E. Atia, president of Orbital Communications International, Orbital Sciences’ satellite-manufacturing arm, said the regulatory difficulties should not be exaggerated and that other issues also contributed.
“I would say the biggest reason for the delay was due to the decision to switch from an Ariane 5 rocket to Soyuz because of the difficulties with the Ariane 5,” Atia said in an Oct. 21 interview. “If I could advise the U.S. government to minimize the pain and effort and bureaucracy, I would. But this is the law, and we had an awful lot of learning curve to get through.”
A component alert on Orbital’s Star 2 platform also delayed the Galaxy 14 launch and accounted for about two months of the delay, Atia said.
Having gone through the process a first time, Orbital expects to have a lot less difficulty if and when another of its satellites is launched on a Soyuz from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Commercial Soyuz launches are sold by the French-Russian Starsem S.A. company of Paris, a joint venture in which the Arianespace commercial-launch consortium of Evry, France, has a minority stake.
Soyuz, which has launched supplies and U.S. astronauts to the international space station, made its commercial debut in 1999 when it conducted six launches of the Globalstar mobile-telephone satellite constellation. Globalstar is a U.S. company. The Globalstar satellites are manufactured principally in Europe but include U.S. components.
Other Russian launch vehicles also have launched U.S. satellites, and the Lockheed Martin-led International Launch Services (ILS) commercial launch company in McLean, Va., has made Russia’s Proton M a major player in the commercial launch market.
The previous Soyuz experience may have led PanAmSat and Orbital Sciences to conclude that exporting Galaxy 14 to Baikonur would not be problematic, industry officials said.
But Starsem’s Globalstar launches occurred before the U.S. government tightened its rules on satellite exports and made complete satellites, and many satellite components, a part of the U.S. legal regime known as the International Traffic in Arm Regulations (ITAR).
“No one fully understood how much things have changed since Starsem launched Globalstar,” said one industry official. “That earlier experience is of almost no value today as far as export licensing goes. Neither PanAmSat, nor Orbital Sciences, nor Starsem was prepared. It was a new experience for all of them.”
Starsem debuted its geostationary-orbit service in December 2003 with the launch of Israel’s Amos 2 satellite, which includes U.S.-built components but is principally built in Israel and was not subjected to the full weight of ITAR, industry officials said.
With smaller satellites representing a greater share of new commercial satellite orders, Starsem officials hope to win a greater share of a market that traditionally has been reserved for the larger rockets.
A modified version of the Soyuz-Fregat is expected to begin commercial operations here — an inaugural launch is scheduled for November 2008 — at a new launch pad now under construction.
The launches will be overseen by the French space agency, CNES, and the Arianespace consortium. But a Russian launch team numbering about 150 engineers will conduct each launch campaign, according to CNES and Arianespace officials.
The Soyuz launch pad here is being built well to the south of the launch site for Europe’s current Ariane 5 and future Vega launchers.
Officials said one reason for the distance between launch sites was to create a security buffer between the Ariane 5 launch operation and the Soyuz facility to ease any U.S. government concerns.