Palapa-D to be Salvaged After Being Launched into Wrong Orbit

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PARIS — Indonesia’s Palapa-D telecommunications satellite arrived in standard geostation ary transfer-orbit position Sept. 3, three days after being left in a useless orbit by an underper forming Chinese Long March 3B rocket.

The satellite is expected to be guided into its final geosta tionary-orbit position by mid- September, according to the satellite’s builder, Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. One industry official said Palapa-D, designed to operate for 15 years, will have enough fuel for eight to 10 years of service following the orbit-raising maneuvers.

The success of Thales Ale nia Space in salvaging the spacecraft will give Palapa-D owner PT Indosat Tbk of Jakar ta breathing room. Palapa-D will replace the Palapa-C2 satellite at 113 degrees east longitude. Launched in 1996, Palapa-C2 has two to three years of full-service life remain ing — about the time it would take for Indosat to replace Palapa-D had it been declared a total loss.

The decision to attempt to salvage the satellite despite its placement in a too-low orbit was made with Palapa-D insurance underwriters, whose payout amount to Indosat likely will de pend on how much commercial life the satellite can provide.

Thales Alenia Space declined to confirm that Palapa-D can be expected to operate for eight to 10 years once in final position, saying a precise estimate cannot be made until the spacecraft reaches its destination.

Palapa-D was launched Aug. 31 from China’s Xichang Satel lite Launch Center in China’s Sichuan Province. The Long March 3B rocket was supposed to place Palapa-D into an ellip tical transfer orbit with an apogee of about 50,000 kilome ters and a perigee of around 200 kilometers.

Launch service provider Chi na Great Wall Industry Corp. of Beijing has declined to comment on what went wrong, but accord ing to information from the U.S. Air Force’s satellite-tracking net work, the satellite’s apogee was only around 21,150 kilometers. Palapa-D, like most telecommu nications satellites, is designed to operate in a circular orbit around 36,000 kilometers over the equator.

China’s semi-official Xinhua news agency said the anomaly occurred during the second burn of the vehicle’s third stage.

The Long March 3B is Chi na’s principal telecommunica tions satellite launcher. The Palapa-D launch was the vehi cle’s 12th and its first failure since its maiden flight in 1996, when the rocket veered off course and crashed into a near by mountain, killing at least six villagers. An Intelsat satellite was destroyed in that accident.

The investigation into that accident, along with the probe of a 1995 Chinese rocket fail ure that also destroyed a U.S.- built satellite, ultimately led the U.S. government to place a de facto ban on exports of U.S. satellites or their components to China. U.S. officials were concerned that sensitive tech nology was transferred to Chi na during the course of those probes and that China was able to use its commercial space launch experience to perfect its missile development.

The U.S. government later broadened its restrictions on exports of satellite components as part of the International Traf fic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which some U.S. component builders say has handicapped their export potential.

Palapa-D, a Spacebus 4000B3 model platform, is one of Thales Alenia Space’s so- called “ITAR-free” spacecraft, meaning it contains no U.S. components subject to ITAR restrictions.

The Franco-Italian builder beat out competitor Space Sys tems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., for the Palapa-D contract after proposing two options to In dosat: a slightly more expensive ITAR-free satellite that could be launched aboard a Chinese rocket, which was less expensive than a U.S., European or Russ ian vehicle; and a more-stan dard Spacebus 4000 design that contains U.S. parts and could not be launched from China. Indosat selected the ITAR-free version.

The 4,100-kilogram Palapa- D carries 24 C-band, 11 extend ed C-band and 5 Ku-band transponders. The construction and launch contract, signed in June 2007, calls for the satellite builder to assume responsibility for the satellite until its success ful placement in orbit.

In submissions to the In donesia Stock Exchange, In dosat said it financed Palapa-D principally from three bank fa cilities negotiated in 2007.

The first, with HSBC France and valued at $157.2 million, is a 12-year loan guaranteed by France’s Coface export-credit agency and designed to pay for 85 percent of the satellite’s France-based content, plus the loan’s premium of 5.69 percent per year.

The second loan, also through HSBC France, is val ued at $44.2 million and is in tended to pay for 85 percent of the launch service contract.

The third loan is with HSBC Jakarta, PT Bank Lippo of In donesia and Bank of China’s Jakarta branch and is valued at $27 million.