Crane mishap at Baikonur damages commercial satellite
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: August 12, 2008;
Updated August 13 with additional details
The MEASAT 3a satellite was damaged Saturday after the craft was attached to the Block DM-SLB upper stage of the Zenit rocket, according to officials with Sea Launch Co., a parent company of the launch provider.
An overhead crane operated by a technician impacted the 5,181-pound satellite, which was already fueled with toxic propellant for its maneuvering thrusters, officials said.
The accident occurred while moving ground support equipment in Area 31 at Baikonur before the craft was encapsulated inside the rocket's payload fairing, according to Sea Launch.
MEASAT 3a will probably be flown back to an Orbital Sciences Corp. factory in Dulles, Va., for repairs and testing, a company spokesperson said.
"The satellite is likely to be coming back to Dulles," said Barry Beneski, an Orbital spokesperson.
The spacecraft is based on Orbital's Star 2 communications satellite platform.
MEASAT 3a is designed to beam Ku-band direct-to-home television programming to customers in Malaysia and Indonesia. C-band transponders will provide fixed satellite services to a wider swath of Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Africa, according to MEASAT Satellite Systems, the craft's owner and operator.
Technicians are removing the satellite from the upper stage to allow engineers to assess damage to the satellite before making a final decision on whether to transport the spacecraft back to the United States.
"We're here to help the customer," Beneski said. "We weren't running the crane and didn't have anything to do with the accident, but we're going to do everything we can to help MEASAT."
MEASAT 3a was on track for launch next week before the crane collision, but the mission will likely be postponed for several months if the spacecraft returns to the United States.
Despite the caustic fuel inside the satellite's propellant tanks, officials said no one was ever in any danger during the accident.
"No hazardous gases were released and no personnel were injured as a result of the incident," said Paula Korn, a Sea Launch spokesperson.
Sea Launch and Space International Services Ltd., a Russian aerospace company, formed Land Launch in 2003 to reach the markets for medium-class communications satellites and large spacecraft bound for low Earth orbit.
Land Launch is managing launch services for MEASAT 3a, the initiative's second mission after it began operations earlier this year.
SIS is in charge of ground processing at Baikonur, and Korn said SIS officials have plenty of experience preparing satellites for launch.
"Clearly, there's a lot of sorting out to do as to what happened and why," Korn said. "All the folks involved were very experienced. Somewhere along the way, human error came into play."
SIS is establishing a commission to investigate the accident, according to Sea Launch.
Korn said company leaders may be able to move forward with another Land Launch mission before the end of the year, pending the results of the investigation into Saturday's accident.