Sea Launch FAILURE – explodes on launch pad/reaction

by Chris Bergin

Sea Launch’s delayed Zenit-3SL, carrying the NSS-8 communications satellite for SES New Skies, has exploded on the launch pad, destroying both the vehicle and satellite. However, the Odyssey Launch Platform appears to have avoided critical damage.

The explosion occurred just as the vehicle was about to lift off the pad. The rocket could be seen falling into the launch pad before a fireball engulfed the launch platform. Hi res, extended videos of the failure is available on the link below (read more).

**Sea Launch Live Update Pages**

**Free video of the failure from T-60 seconds to explosion** Free to all forum members (registration is free – we do not use your e-mail for spam, only to send you your forum password – which is automated). Section includes previous Sea Launch videos:  Sea Launch – XM-4 – Oct 30 and Sea Launch – Koreasat 5 – Aug 22.

Current UNCONFIRMED information:
The Odyssey Launch Platform escaped major damage.
Engine telemetry ended at T+3.9 seconds.
The Zenit launch vehicle appears to have fallen through the pad (through the duct).
Black smoke observed on the launch video (confirmed).
Potentially a turbopump failure.
Atlas watching evaluations closely, due to relation between RD-171 and RD-180. May impact upcoming STP launch.


‘We deeply regret the loss of the NSS-8 satellite, which was designed to be a significant part of the SES NEW SKIES fleet. We are receiving consistent expressions of confidence in our system and our team from our customers and the insurance community,’ said Rob Peckham, president of Sea Launch. ‘We have begun to discuss a plan for a Return to Flight.

‘The safety of our people is our number one priority. The Sea Launch team is the best in the business and will continue to work diligently to understand the anomaly, identify the root cause and determine a corrective course of action. As we move forward, we are maintaining a positive, progressive mind-set and a dedication to excellence.’

‘The Sea Launch Zenit 3SL vehicle, carrying the NSS 8 satellite, experienced an anomaly today during launch operations.

‘Sea Launch will establish a Failure Review Oversight Board to determine the root cause of this anomaly,’ said an official statement from Sea Launch. Further details are expected to follow.

‘SES regrets to announce the failure of the launch of NSS-8, the sixth satellite in the SES NEW SKIES fleet, onboard a Zenith-3SL launch vehicle, and the resulting total loss of the satellite,’ added the satellite customer in a press release.

‘SES NEW SKIES is currently not in a position to comment on the possible causes of the mission failure and is awaiting the results of the official investigation which is in the process of being installed.

‘NSS-8 was built by Boeing, with launch services from the Odyssey Platform in the equatorial Pacific provided by Sea Launch. The spacecraft was intended to operate at SES NEW SKIES orbital position of 57 degrees East to replace the existing NS-703 satellite.

‘The launch failure of NSS-8 means that NSS-703 will now stay at 57 degrees East in order to continue to serve existing customers until at least 2009.’

SES NEW SKIES has already initiated the construction of NSS-9 for launch in 2009 into the Pacific Ocean Region. NSS-9 is intended to free up NSS-5 which in turn will then be free to relocate to 57° to replace NSS-703.

The NSS-8 launch failure is thus not expected to have an impact on existing customers or revenues.

Mission Preview:

Sea Launch, which enjoyed a highly successful 2006, are returning to action for the first time since October of last year, which saw the launch of the XM-4 broadcast satellite. Their return to action this year has suffered a number of delays over the past week due to poor weather at the launch site.

The Boeing NSS-8 is a high-powered, state-of-the-art, Ku- and C-band satellite to be located at 57 degrees East over the Indian Ocean. It will provide coverage of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent and Asia, replacing NSS-703 and bringing expanded power and coverage at this optimum and well-established orbital location.

The spacecraft – the sixth of the NSS fleet – comprises of 92 high-powered C and Ku-band transponders. NSS-8 will be the largest and most powerful communications satellite of its kind.

The successful launch of NSS-8 will subsequently also allow for NSS-703 to be re-deployed to the Atlantic Ocean region at 340 degrees East, further boosting the global coverage and connectivity provided by the 40-plus strong fleet of satellites in the SES Group.

The Zenit-3SL launch vehicle will lift the 5,920 kg (13,051 lb.) NSS-8 communications satellite to an optimized geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), on its way to a final orbital position of 57 degrees East Longitude.

Lifting off from the Odyssey Launch Platform, a Zenit-3SL rocket will begin its ascent phase of flight. The first stage of the vehicle will separate two-and-a-half minutes after lift-off, and the protective payload fairing will be jettisoned 75 seconds later.

About eight-and-a-half minutes into the mission, the second stage will separate from the Block DM upper stage. The engine of the Block DM will ignite for a 4-and-a-half-minute burn, after which the spacecraft will enter a coast period of 30 minutes.

The Block DM will then ignite for a second burn, for a 7-minute duration and then separate from the spacecraft 10 minutes later, over the Indian Ocean. A ground station in Gnangara, Australia, is expected to acquire the first signal from NSS-8 in orbit, shortly after spacecraft separation.


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