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Russian Zenit rocket with US satellite fails at launch


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#1 Crisp

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 12:24

Russian Zenit rocket with US satellite fails at launch

A Russian rocket carrying a US-made telecommunications satellite has plunged into the Pacific Ocean shortly after launch.

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Intelsat-27 was to have provided mobile broadband and video services

The Zenit-3SL rocket, which was being operated from a floating pad south of the Hawaiian islands, failed 40 seconds after the lift-off at 06:59 GMT.

The Intelsat-27 satellite was due to be positioned over the Atlantic to provide services to the Americas and Europe.

Officials say no-one was hurt as a result of the incident.

Staff from the Sea Launch company, which organised the launch, direct all missions from a support vessel that sits at a safe distance of about 6.5km uprange of the platform.

The firm said it would establish a review board to determine what went wrong.

"We are very disappointed with the outcome of the launch and offer our sincere regrets to our customer, Intelsat, and their spacecraft provider, Boeing," Kjell Karlsen, president of Sea Launch AG, said in a statement.

"The cause of the failure is unknown, but we are evaluating it and working closely with Intelsat, Boeing, Energia Logistics Ltd and our Zenit-3SL suppliers. We will do everything reasonably possible to recover from this unexpected and unfortunate event."

Sea Launch had not long returned from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

A spectacular rocket failure on its converted oil rig in 2007 forced the firm to restructure its finances as orders slowed and debts mounted.

It re-emerged in 2011 and had lofted four satellites successfully from the Odyssey platform before Friday's loss.

The rig-######-pad and its command ship are based at Long Beach, California.

For a mission, the pair move south to the equator at 154 degrees West Longitude.

An equatorial launch location gives a rocket a boost from the Earth's rotation, meaning it can lift heavier payloads into orbit.

Sea Launch is owned now by a Russian-led consortium headed by Energia Overseas Ltd, and is headquartered in Bern, Switzerland.

The commercial market for launching large geostationary telecommunications satellites is intensively competitive.

It has been dominated for several years by the European Ariane rocket, operated by Arianespace, and the Russian Proton vehicle, which is sold by International Launch Services (although the latter has experienced a number of failures of its own recently).

Once the cause of Friday's loss is identified and any necessary corrective action taken, Sea Launch will need to re-instil confidence in the market that its product is a good one.

The Ukrainian-Russian Zenit-3SL vehicle has a generally good reliability record.

A modified version, the Zenit-3SLB, is operated from land, flying out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The most recent of these launches was at the end of 2011.

Launch contracts from the Luxembourg-based Intelsat company had been integral to Sea Launch's return to business after bankruptcy protection.

Intelsat-27, which weighed some 6.2 tonnes at launch, was to have provided direct-to-home TV services and mobile broadband connections.


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#2 DocM

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 16:10

Sea Launch was just recovering from thatfailure in 2007 where the Zenit exploded at launch damaging the platform, so it was indeed "spectacular." This is a real black eye for both Zenit and them.

#3 vetneufuse

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 16:17

wonder what the insurance plans for these launch companies is like

#4 DocM

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 16:25

Each launch is separately insured with the rate depending on the reliability and cost of the vehicle + cost of the satellite but on average $15-30M. Additional coverage can be purchased to cover the loss of a satellite once it's in orbit - about another $20M.

A Soyuz or Atlas V launch is insured rather reasonably vecause of their track record, and Falcon 9's low cost and now proven engine-out capability (last launch lost an engine and kept flying because it was designed to do that.)

I wouldn't want to even see the bill for the Proton with a Briz-M upper stage as it's had serious problems for 2 years, and another launch attempt is later this month. Another Briz-M problem and Russia may have to self-insure it.

#5 king_of_hearts

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 16:28

Looks like an engine failure to me...

Surely they will find the fault...but most likely Zenit will be blamed since they manufactured the rocket.

I'd have to think they have massive insurance policies, lol.

#6 Geoffrey B.

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 16:29

I can just imagine for the company that lost their spacecraft that a lot of stuff would get pushed back now that they will have to rebuild the spacecraft. and some of those can take 3 or more years to build.

#7 DocM

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 16:47

The engine is the RD-171, an evolution of the RD-170 that was used on Energia. A pretty good engine, following the Russian pattern of a single turbopump driving multiple thrust chambers of which it has 4 (when counting rocket engines you count the turbopumps, not the chambers.)

The problem with a shared turbopump vs discrete ones is that one pump failure takes out the entire cluster, which is why Falcon 9 uses one pump / chamber - it gives them an engine-out capability, meaning it can lose 2 engines (rare) and still make orbit.

That said, most launch failures are not due to an engine failure. More often is the avionics failing, a staging issue (ex: stage doesn't separate when it's burned out), a structural failure or the payload fairing fails to fall away.

RD-171
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#8 DocM

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 17:17

Engine shutdown at T+ 25 seconds. Accident review board impaneled, and indications from NPO Energomash that it was off course almost immediately. Could be guidance / flight control or engine failure. Time will tell.

This is the 4th failure in 42 flights for Zenit 3, a failure rate of nearly 10%. This classes Zenit 3 as an unreliable launcher. The overall Zenit 2 and 3 is now 15% - 12 fails/partial fails in 80 flights.

Not good for Russia as because of the Proton problems several launches were going to be transferred to Zenit 3 until Proton's sorted out. That plan's now in question. The Soyuz isn't an option for many of these flights as it has a much lower mass to orbit.

Any bets SpaceX and ULA get a slew of calls?

#9 king_of_hearts

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 18:25

The SpaceX engine design makes more sense to me.

The capability to lose 2 engines, and still make orbit is extremely exciting. What's the failure rate on them so far?

I'm really interested in seeing the falcon heavy. Anyone know when its due to launch?

As for the Russian's... This doesn't look promising. They will lose contracts if they don't figure out how to make them more reliable.

#10 LaP

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 19:27

Is not Angara and RD-191 supposed to replace all that when it will be completed ?

#11 DocM

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 20:18

Angara's RD-191 is based on the RD-171 (Zenit) and its parent the RD-170, plus it will use both the Briz-M and Briz-KM upper stages, all of which are having troubles (KM because its to be based on Briz-M.) Not encouraging.

Falcon 9 v1.0 has had 4 launches, all of which put their primary payload into orbit. The last Falcon 9 v1.0 lost an engine but compensated by shutting it down and automatically burning the other 8 and 2nd stage longer. No human intervention needed. A secondary payload from ORBCOMM was sacrificed because of constraints imposed by NASA; SpaceX calculated a success probability for it at 95% and NASA wanted 99% and they were the primary contractor.

Falcon 9 v1.0 has its last launch March 1, another flight to the ISS, and it will be succeeded by Falcon. 9 v1.1 after that; 40% taller (227 ft), up to 55% heavier payloads and sporting an upgraded & much more powerful engine. Engines will be arranged with one in the center and 8 in a surrounding octagon for better load distribution.

Falcon Heavy ships to their new Vandenberg AFB SLC-4E launch site at the end of this year. Before it flies the new Falcon 9 v1.1 flies first, probably in March 2014, carrying a Canadian payload. FH shortly after. The FH payload is unknown.

#12 DocM

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 20:44

Update: looking like the guidance system failed - the Zenit turned South immediately after launch instead of the required Easterly heading. The engine shutdown was automatic and part of the Flight Termination System Russian launchers use (US & European launchers are blown up in the air so the fuel is dissipated before impact.)

http://www.spacepoli...fails-at-launch