Sea Launch: Preliminary IS-19 Launch Data Exonerates Rocket

by

PARIS — Commercial launch services provider Sea Launch AG on June 8 said early indications are that its rocket performed as designed May 31 when it placed Intelsat’s IS-19 telecommunications satellite into orbit, and that the satellite’s subsequent failure to deploy one of its two solar arrays was not caused by any issue with the rocket.

However, in releasing preliminary “Quick Look” telemetry data, Sea Launch said that while its rocket carried the satellite to orbit within the predefined vibration and other limits, vehicle sensors recorded “an unexpected, isolated event” 72 seconds after liftoff.

Bern, Switzerland-based Sea Launch offered no explanation for the cause of this event, saying the data show it was not a response to any malfunction of the Sea Launch rocket.

But the company said it has seen a similar event once before in its 31-launch history: in January 2004, during the launch of a Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) satellite similar to the IS-19. That satellite, dubbed Telstar 14/Estrela do Sul-1, ended up with a permanently disabled solar array.

The Sea Launch statement is consistent with June 7 statements made by SS/L President John Celli, who said the last time SS/L had a problem of this nature was in 2004, with the Sea Launch rocket. The implication: SS/L only has these problems with Sea Launch.

The Sea Launch statement offers the other side of the coin, implying that Sea Launch only has these problems with SS/L satellites.

How the Sea Launch statement will affect the decision-making process of the owners of other SS/L-built satellites awaiting launch at spaceports in South America and Kazakhstan is unknown. One insurance underwriter said it is likely that the owners of these two satellites will elect to slow their progression toward launch until more Sea Launch telemetry is made available from Boeing Commercial Space Co., which built the Sea Launch payload sensor suite.

“The preliminary data review indicates that all systems performed nominally throughout the launch profile including fairing and spacecraft separation,” the Sea Launch statement says. “The data indicates no exceedance of the environmental requirements defined in the Spacecraft Interface Control Document and the Sea Launch User’s Guide and there is no indication of any re-contact during fairing or spacecraft separation events.

“Boeing engineers did note an unexpected, isolated event around 72 seconds after launch, which registered on microphones and pressure sensors. We have only seen this one other time out of the 31 flights and while it is premature to speculate on its origin until further analysis is complete, it bears a striking resemblance to a prior Space Systems/Loral mission.”

Sea Launch performed seven successful flights of SS/L satellites after the 2004 Telstar14/Estrela do Sul-1 mission. Sea Launch promised to provide full telemetry data as quickly as possible.