Spaceflight Now: Sea Launch Mission Report

Sea Launch bounces back, scores success for PanAmSat

Posted: July 29, 2000

The Zenit 3SL rocket lifts off on Friday. Photo: Sea Launch
Sea Launch earned redemption on Friday as the international consortium successfully returned to service after a four-month grounding from a botched mission in March.

The Zenit 3SL rocket roared off its floating launch platform, the Odyssey, precisely on time at 2242:00 GMT (6:42 p.m. EDT) and headed eastward above the Pacific Ocean along the equator.

"It was absolutely outstanding," Bo Bejmuk, vice president and general manager of Sea Launch's homeport in Long Beach, Calif., said of the liftoff. "In this business, it cannot get any better than what I saw."

The Ukrainian-made, two-stage Zenit vehicle hurled the Russian Block DM upper stage and satellite cargo -- PanAmSat's PAS-9 -- out of the atmosphere and into space.

About nine minutes after liftoff, the Zenit's second stage dropped away having completed its job, and signaled the problem which doomed the last Sea Launch mission had been corrected.

Investigators determined the failure on March 12, which sent the first ICO telephone satellite crashing into the Pacific, was caused by faulty ground software. The error meant a pressurization valve on the rocket's second stage was not closed prior to liftoff as designed. The stage's engine was commanded to shutdown during that launch after sensing something was amiss, and gave Sea Launch its first failure after two earlier successes.

On Friday everything appeared to go like clockwork and after two firings of the Block DM stage, the PAS-9 satellite was released into an accurate geosynchronous transfer orbit around Earth. A half-hour later, ground controllers established contact with PAS-9, confirming it was alive and in the right orbit.

"Sea Launch is back!" the company's president, Wilbur Trafton, told a group of invited guests in Long Beach, Calif. "We have been through some adversity lately but...we are a stronger company, we are a stronger team for it."

The Zenit 3SL rocket is erected on the launch platform in a test earlier this month. Photo: Sea Launch
Without question the mission Friday was crucial to the future survival of Sea Launch in the fiercely competitive commercial satellite launch market. Sea Launch currently competes directly with Arianespace's Ariane 5 and the Russian Proton for deployment missions of heavier satellites, and will soon face the next-generation Boeing Delta 4 and Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rockets.

"This success revalidates the Sea Launch concept and really establishes Sea Launch as one of the premier launch service providers for the heavy-lift portion of the market," said Amy Burhig, Sea Launch's vice president for marketing and sales.

After the launch had been declared a success, Tig Krekel, president and CEO of Hughes Space and Communications, told Trafton everyone was watching the outcome of the flight. That included Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company of United Arab Emirates, which is slated to deploy its first telephone relay satellite using Sea Launch on Sept. 18.

"In case you didn't know, Wil, the eyes of the whole industry were on you today," Krekel said, noting Thuraya officials were awake at 4 a.m. local time to view the launch.

Hughes built both PAS-9 and the Thuraya craft.

This weekend the Odyssey launch platform and Sea Launch Commander vessels will head back to Homeport in Long Beach to prepare for the next mission, which is less than two months away.

Sea Launch has 17 more missions sold with two more scheduled for this year -- the Thuraya mission and the Nov. 18 launch of the first broadcasting satellite for XM Satellite Radio.

Spanning the Atlantic
PanAmSat's PAS-9 satellite will undergo a few weeks of orbit maneuvers and testing before entering service in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above Earth. Greenwich, Connecticut-based PanAmSat plans to operate the craft at 58 degrees West longitude, replacing the older PAS-5 satellite that will move to another spot.

An artist's concept of PAS-9 orbiting Earth. Photo: Hughes
From its orbital perch over the Atlantic Ocean Region in PanAmSat's satellite fleet, PAS-9 is designed to deliver video distribution, data relay and Internet services throughout the Americas, the Caribbean and western Europe.

Built by Hughes in El Segundo, Calif., the HS 601HP satellite features 24 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders and 15-year life expectancy.

A dozen Ku-band transponders are earmarked to serve Sky Mexico's direct-to-home television service, beaming over 160 channels directly to consumers' homes.

Other users of PAS-9 will include the British Broadcasting Corporation, Germany's Deutsche Welle, Japan's NHK, Venezuela's Cisneros, Portugal's RTP and the United States' Eternal Word Television Network, ESPN and HBO Ole Partners.

The craft will become PanAmSat's seventh Atlantic Ocean Region satellite and eighth serving Latin America, representing an investment of nearly $2 billion in advanced satellite services for the region.

It was the fourth satellite launched in PanAmSat's ongoing effort to expand and enhance its fleet of spacecraft, which currently numbers 21 with the recent retirement of SBS 4. Three more satellites are due to go up through the middle of 2001, increasing the company's global network to 24 spacecraft.

Next up will be the PAS-1R Atlantic Ocean Region satellite slated for launch by the end of 2000 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket, to be followed by PAS-10 in early 2001 by a Russian Proton and Galaxy 3C in the spring atop a Sea Launch Zenit.

Flight Data File
Vehicle: Zenit 3SL
Payload: PAS-9
Launch date: July 28, 2000
Launch window: 2242-2342 GMT (6:42 to 7:42 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: Equator, 154 deg. West, Pacific Ocean

Pre-launch Briefing
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of the events to occur during launch.

Ground track - A map shows the track the Zenit will follow to orbit.

Orbit trace - The orbits PAS-9 will take during the hour-long journey to space.

Rocket - A look at the Zenit 3SL rocket and Block DM-SL upper stage.

The Sea Launch vessels - Overviews of the Sea Launch Commander and Odyssey launch platform.

PAS-9 satellite - The Hughes-built craft for PanAmSat.