The launch of Intelsat (News - Alert) 27 early on the morning of February 1 went dramatically wrong, resulting in the loss of the satellite and casting a cloud over the recently restarted SeaLaunch venture and the reliability of Russian and Ukrainian hardware.
The mission started at 1:56 a.m. ET, with the Zenit-3SL launch vehicle taking off from the ocean-based Odyssey launch platform – basically a converted oil drilling rig with a pad – positioned at 154 degrees West longitude. The vehicle started drifting out of its planned flight path, with the first stage engine shut down around 25 seconds into flight, reported Spaceflight Now.
Approximately 40 seconds into liftoff, all telemetry from the rocket was lost and the vehicle reportedly started flying “horizontally” before crashing into the ocean.
SeaLaunch is establishing a Failure Review Oversight board to determine the root cause of the accident, but the latest launch failure might doom the company’s future prospects. After a January 2007 launch failure, SeaLaunch ended up in bankruptcy proceedings, emerging in 2010 with Energia taking over ownership of the company. SeaLaunch had three successful launches since emerging from bankruptcy, but the Intelsat 27 launch was the last scheduled mission on the company’s manifest.
AsiaSat has contracted with SeaLaunch as a backup to the SpaceX (News - Alert) Falcon 9 for the launch of the AsiaSat 6 and AsiaSat 8 satellites in 2014, but otherwise SeaLaunch’s manifest is empty.
SpaceX Falcon 9 now has a better launch record than the SeaLaunch system for the same time period. Four Falcon 9 missions have taken place since 2010 – same as SeaLaunch – with three fully successful missions. CRS-1, the most recent flight, successfully delivered its Dragon ISS supply mission primary payload into orbit with one first stage engine out, but was unable to deliver its ORBCOMM (News - Alert) satellite secondary payload into the proper orbit due to a flight safety window timing limitation for relighting the second stage.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk says the company files Falcon flight plans with NASA and the U.S. Air Force for both one engine and two engine failures in the first stage.
The three-stage liquid-fueled liquid oxygen/kerosene Zenit-3SL (Sea Launch) rocket is designed to deliver 6,160 kilograms to a standard geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). If the launch failure is traced to the engine in the first stage of the vehicle, this could be of concern to the U.S. launch industry and the Department of Defense.
The Zenit-3SL and the Atlas V both use a single engine derived from the Russian RD-170 and built by NPO Energomash.
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Edited by Braden Becker