UPDATE - Sea Launch Failure Leaves Top Customers Uncertain About Potential Delays

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Title: Sea Launch Failure Leaves Top Customers Uncertain About Potential Launch Delays

Source: http://library.northernlight.com/FC20000321550000046.html?cb=0&dx=2006&sc=0#doc

Story Filed: Tuesday, March 21, 2000 3:50 PM EST

Mar. 21, 2000 (Satellite News, Vol. 23, No. 12 via COMTEX) -- The failed mission of a Sea Launch rocket last weekend threatens to delay the launch satellites that were expected to be carried by the rocket into orbit in the coming months.

Until a final determination is made about the cause of the problem and corrective action that can be taken, launch customers are waiting in limbo.

The biggest Sea Launch customer is Hughes Space and Communications [GMH], the world's largest satellite manufacturer.

Hughes had purchased 13 launches on Sea Launch, including last weekend's failed attempt to lift an ICO Global Communications [ICOGF] satellite into orbit. All three of the Sea Launch flights so far have been for Hughes, including the inaugural, demonstration launch.

The second was the launch of DirecTv 1R, and the third was the ill-fated ICO F1. As a result, the Sea Launch success rate is a disappointing 66.7 percent.

Of the 10 remaining Hughes launches on Sea Launch, five have been assigned: PAS 9, Thuraya 1, XM 1, XM 2, and Galaxy 3C.

The customers are PanAmSat Corp. [SPOT], XM Satellite Radio, [XMSR] and the United Arab Emirates. Loral Space [LOR] is the next-largest Sea Launch customer with close to six launches.

Loral officials declined to identify customers who would use the Sea Launch or to provide the exact number of Sea Launch missions it is committed to use.

The next launch of the Sea Launch rocket is unlikely to occur before this summer due to the continuing failure investigation, Sea Launch officials said.

"It is premature to discuss delays, etc., right now," said Diana Ball, a Hughes spokeswoman. "We should know more in the days and weeks ahead."

Will Trafton, president of Sea Launch, said after the launch failure, "I offer my sincerest regrets to Hughes and ICO -- and I assure all of our customers that we will determine the cause of this failure and the necessary corrective actions and will share this information when it is available."

The Sea Launch rocket lifted off in a southeasterly direction from the company's mobile launch platform, approximately 230 miles from Kiritimati (Christmas) Island in the Pacific.

Loss of communication with the launch vehicle occurred several minutes into the flight when the Sea Launch Commander, the assembly & command ship (ACS), stopped receiving flight data signals from the rocket.

Each Sea Launch partner is reviewing all the available launch data. Each of the four partners, including The Boeing Co. [BA] is from a different country. The Ukrainian-built second stage tentatively is believed to have been responsible for the mishap, industry officials said.

Upon approval of a specific Technical Assistance Agreement for this type of an event, an investigation oversight board will be formed.

"This is a tough business, and failures are an unfortunate part of this industry," Trafton said. "I am extremely proud of the Sea Launch team. This group of professionals from four nations will recover from this disappointment and provide reliable launch services in the future."

The March 12 failure, though a setback for the U.S. commercial launch industry, may not burn the industry financially. Satellite manufacturers and launch providers looking for insurance right now can breathe a quick sigh of relief, since the mishap will not cause launch insurance rates to rise dramatically.

"I don't think a significant increase to global insurance rates will happen because of only this failure," said Alain Catarfi, insurance broker with French-based Gras Savoiie. "Even though this might affect the Sea Launch company, I believe we would not be in a position to significantly increase rates based on one anomaly."

ICO executives said the launch was adequately insured to cover the estimated $200 million cost of building and launching a replacement spacecraft.

"Quite frankly, this failure may very well drive more launches to Arianespace," said Clayton Mowry, executive director of the Satellite Industry Association. "There is a lot of pressure in succeeding right now because of all the recent failures of last year. It's a tough business."

Arianespace has achieved an industry-leading reliability rate of 97.5 percent through mid-December, compared with 96.6 percent for Delta, 93.9 percent for Atlas and 93.6 percent for Proton, according to data by Airclaims, a U.K.- based insurance claims data provider.

The reliability calculations are based on the industry standard AMSAA (Army Material Systems Analysis Activity).

Launch Vehicle Reliability Rates

* Ariane (97.5%) * Delta (96.6%) * Atlas (93.9%) * Proton (93.6%)

Copyright ) 2000, Satellite News, all rights reserved.


-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 21, 2000

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