No hope of saving wayward DISH Network satellite
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: April 11, 2008
The owners of a television broadcasting satellite stranded in a lower-than-planned orbit during last month's failed Proton rocket launch announced Friday they have declared the craft a total loss.
Built to beam television programming into homes across the United States for DISH Network, the AMC 14 satellite is now destined for an early retirement, likely with a fiery, destructive re-entry into the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
"The loss of any satellite is a disappointment, and the failure of AMC 14 means there will be no revenues to come from this program," said Mark Rigolle, chief financial officer for SES, the satellite's Luxembourg-based owner.
Rigolle said the spacecraft's insurance policy will be redeemed for $150 million in the next few months, and the loss of the satellite will have no impact on the company's financial statements.
"The rest of our business in North America and worldwide has no connection with, and is unaffected by, this launch failure," Rigolle said.
The rocket released AMC 14 after the Proton's Breeze M upper stage engine cut off prematurely just 90 minutes into a nearly seven-hour mission. Launch details can be found in our earlier story.
The 9,100-pound spacecraft was placed in a stable configuration by engineers with the commercial space division of Lockheed Martin Corp., the satellite's manufacturer.
Controllers nudged AMC 14 into a slightly higher orbit in the weeks following the March 14 launch, but the satellite was still well shy of its intended circular altitude of 22,300 miles. The craft's inclination was approximately 49 degrees, far away from the zero-degree orbit angle used by communications satellites.
Officials said they evaluated several options for recovering the marooned satellite. Saving AMC 14 would have used much of the satellite's operational maneuvering propellant, significantly reducing its useful life from the 15-year expectation before launch.
Past commercial communications satellites beset by similar launch failures were put into geosynchronous orbit through a traditional transfer trajectory, or by incorporating a lunar flyby to use the moon's gravity to swing the beleaguered spacecraft back toward Earth.
In a statement a few days after the botched launch, officials expressed optimism for recovering AMC 14. But further analysis revealed it was not practical and the company opted to declare the satellite a total loss.
"SES and Lockheed Martin have carefully examined all the available options for repositioning this satellite into its intended geostationary orbit," Edward Horowitz, president and CEO of SES AMERICOM. "Unfortunately, none of those options would allow effective use of the spacecraft. The various repositioning scenarios presented carry unacceptable risks, and would result in a severely shortened life of the satellite. Therefore, we have no choice but to claim a total loss of the satellite with our insurers."
Attempts to reach SES officials for details on AMC 14's disposal plan were unsuccessful.
International Launch Services, the international marketing firm responsible for selling commercial contracts for the Proton rocket, announced last week that the Russian board investigating the incident was close to determining the failure's root cause.