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Sea Launch overcomes failure with fresh satellite launch

Elizabeth Howell, News Writer
May 28, 2014, 0:18 UTC

Sen—Soaring from its Pacific Ocean-based Sea Launch pad, a powerful communications satellite made its way to orbit Monday (26 May) at 21:10 UTC.

With Eutelsat 3B now preparing for service in July, the successful blastoff signals progress for Sea Launch, which had suffered a failure when trying to deliver the Intelsat 27 satellite into space in February last year.

Eutelsat 3B is billed as the first satellite to offer payloads in three bands of communication—Ku, C and Ka—on one platform, targeting customers spanning the rapidly growing markets in the Middle East, Brazil, Central Asia and Africa as well as Europe.

The six-tonne satellite separated as planned from its Zenit-3SL booster about an hour after liftoff to make its way to a geosynchronous transfer orbit. This special maneuver will eventually place Eutelsat 3B in a location above Earth where it will stay in a consistent position relative to our planet's surface, providing reliable communications with fixed stations on the ground.

Controllers also reported that Eutelsat 3B had partially unfurled its solar array about two hours after it separated from Zenit.

A video about the new communications satellite just launched. Credit: Eutelsat

"We are delighted to see Eutelsat 3B on its way," said Michel de Rosen, Eutelsat's new CEO and chair. "Its exceptional range of payloads will enable us to tailor our response to customers operating broadband, data, telecom and video services in a vast footprint spanning from Brazil to Central Asia."

The event marks the first successful liftoff for Sea Launch since 1 February 2013, when a Zenit-3SL rocket deviated from its planned course and crashed into the Pacific Ocean, destroying both rocket and the communications satellite it was carrying, Intelsat 27.

An investigation concluded that a problem with the rocket's hydraulic pump led to a failure about four seconds after launch. When the rocket veered from where it was supposed to be, Zenit made an automatic emergency shutdown to stop the mission safely.

"The pump failure was the result of contributing factors associated with a pump manufacturing process that proved difficult to control," Sea Launch stated at the time, in media reports.

Sea Launch

Sea Launch's Odyssey Launch Platform and Zenit-3SL rocket. Credit: Sea Launch

The company has undergone some major changes in 2014. In late February, then-CEO Kjell Karlsen resigned to find new work outside of the space industry. Karlsen had been with the company since 1999, and took on the CEO post in 2008.

In April, Sea Launch relocated its headquarters about 1.5 hours southwest to Nyon, Switzerland (near Geneva) from its previous spot in Bern. The company stated that the move would give Sea Launch air and rail transport facilities and put it close to its customer base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Sea Launch was created in 1995 to offer sea-located satellite launches, and sent its first demonstration payload into space in March 1999. Its equatorial launch site platform in the Pacific Ocean is called Odyssey, and is about 133 metres by 67 metres (436ft by 220ft) in size.