Sea Launch Announces Findings Behind Most Recent Failure

Photo Credit: Sea Launch
Photo Credit: Sea Launch

Commercial space firm Sea Launch has announced the company’s findings into the Feb. 1, 2013, failure of Sea Launch’s Zenit 3SL rocket. According to Sea Launch, the rocket and its payload were lost due to a faulty hydraulic pump.

This pump is used to steer the Zenit 3SL launch vehicle while the rocket is on ascent. According to an article appearing on Space Safety Magazine, the following took place:

The failure occurred when the Zenit rocket veered off a few seconds after the liftoff from the Odyssey mobile launch platform. The rocket’s computer detected a change in the planned flight course, triggering the Russian first stage engine’s emergency shutdown and safely terminating the launch.

The hydraulic power supply unit, which pressurizes the hydraulic oil feeding the engine gimbal actuators, failed about 4 seconds after liftoff due to “abnormal performance” of the pump. The actuators are supposed to direct the engine’s thrust in order to guide the rocket on the planned trajectory.

The Intelsat 27 spacecraft, which was built by Boeing’s Space and Intelligence Systems and is based on the Boeing 702MP satellite bus, was the payload during this most recent failure. The spacecraft was supposed to provide 15 years’ worth of service to clients in the U.S., South America, and Europe, and would have resided in a geostationary orbit. Both spacecraft and its launch vehicle crashed into the Pacific Ocean a few kilometers away from the Odyssey mobile launch platform.

Sea Launch is a relatively new aerospace company, having been established in 1995 by a group of companies based in Russia, Norway, the Ukraine, and the U.S. The private space firm has launched a total of 31 rockets, with three of those being total failures and one partial failure. The provider of the Sea Launch service, Sea Launch Co. LLC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2009. The company came out of bankruptcy in October 2010.

Sea Launch’s list of failures began in 2000 when the ICO-F1 spacecraft was lost. Four years later Telstar-18 was launched, but the Zenit rocket performed less than expected, requiring the Telstar-18 to use its fuel to make up for the rocket’s deficiency. Three years later, in 2007, the NSS-8 satellite was destroyed when the Zenit launch vehicle exploded. Then there was the Feb. 1 mishap.

The company’s woes worsened after this latest failure.

The Boeing Company filed suit against the other international partners that constitute the Sea Launch consortium. The reason for the suit stems from Boeing stating that Sea Launch needs to be reimbursed for its investments in the private space company. The suit was filed in federal court in Los Angeles, Calif.

Boeing claimed that two of the other companies within Sea Launch, RSC Energia and Yuzhnoye SDO, have backed out of an agreement to reimburse Boeing if Sea Launch failed. As it currently stands Energia and Yuzhnoye own 95 percent of Sea Launch with Boeing and another firm owning the remaining five percent. The amount that Boeing is stating is owed them is approximately $350 million. Boeing filed the suit the day of Sea Launch’s most recent failure—Friday, Feb. 1, 2013.

Sea Launch has stated that it could launch as soon as later this year. However, it is unclear which company, if any, have tapped Sea Launch to boost their payload to orbit.


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