The twenty-fourth commercial launch mission for Sea Launch ended in failure on Tuesday, as a Zenit 3SL rocket carrying the SES New Skies NSS-8 satellite toppled on the launch pad, destroying both the vehicle and its payload in a massive explosion. The incident took place aboard Sea Launch’s Odyssey platform, a converted Norwegian oil rig located in equatorial waters of the Pacific Ocean. According to witnesses, the 20-story Zenit launch vehicle fell over inexplicably as technicians ignited the rocket’s main engines for liftoff. Although the resulting fireball engulfed the Odyssey floating platform, no injuries were reported. Since its inaugural launch in 1999, Sea Launch—a consortium consisting of Boeing, RSC-Energia of Russia, Kvaener ASA of Norway, and SDO Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash of the Ukraine—has experienced two other failures, the first of which also involved a Zenit 3SL vehicle. (In that incident, a loss of pressure in the second stage of the launch prevented an ICO mobile communications satellite from reaching its orbit.) Built by Boeing, the high-powered NSS8 spacecraft was to have offered audio, video, data and Internet coverage to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia from the 57° East Longitude orbital slot. Noting that NSS-8 had been intended to replace the aging NSS-703 spacecraft, SES New Skies said it would keep NSS-703 in service at its current position until another satellite, NSS-5, moves to replace NSS-703 in 2009. A spokesman promised that Sea Launch would establish a failure review board “to determine the root cause of this anomaly.” Experts also say that the impact of the accident is likely to be felt throughout the global satellite industry as the heavily damaged Sea Launch platform is expected to be out of service for months, placing additional burdens on overstrained foreign launch capacity.
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Launch pad explosion destroys SES new skies satellite
- Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
- February 2 2007
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