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Sea Launch says software glitch doomed satellite


By Chris Stetkiewicz

SEATTLE, March 29 (Reuters) - Satellite launch group Sea Launch on Wednesday said a software glitch doomed its March 12 mission, forcing the destruction of the rocket and a $200 million telecommunications satellite.

The multinational consortium operating a launch platform near the equator in the Pacific Ocean said software supplied by Russian partner Energiya failed to close an engine valve, reducing thrust and failing to put the satellite into orbit. Technology Intel eyes life after 1GHz Mass. Bans Computer Dumping Backspin: Tech Week in Review Drkoop Web Site in Poor Health Intel: Record Gain After Ruling

"Data indicates this system had lost more than 60 percent of its pressure. Continued pressure loss reduced the capability of the engine, ultimately leading to a significant deviation in attitude, triggering the automatic flight termination system," Sea Launch said in a release.

Sea Launch spokeswoman Paula Korn stressed that the partners in the venture, 40-percent owned by Seattle aerospace giant Boeing Co. , shared blame equally for the failure.

"It is Energiya that is responsible for the software," Korn said. "We do operate as a team and the team goes through several rehearsals. So it's a problem for the whole team because no one caught it."

Other partners include Norway's Kvaerner Group and Ukraine's KB Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash, which built the Zenit-3 SL rocket that failed a little less than 8 minutes into the flight, the third for Sea Launch.

Each partner is conducting its own probe of the accident, searching for other possible causes, Sea Launch said.

The failure likely delayed Sea Launch's next mission, but the program has a customer ready to go as soon as this summer, Korn said.

"We are going for this summer, but we hope it's earlier than this summer," Korn said.

The Long Beach, Calif.-based partnership enjoyed a smooth demonstration voyage in March 1999 and its first commercial launch last October successfully put a television satellite into geostationary orbit.

The recent mishap delayed the start of troubled ICO Global Communications's mobile telephone service by destroying what would have been its first satellite.

Insurance sources have said the satellite, one of 12 to be built by Hughes Electronics Corp. under a $2.3 billion contract that also covered launch procurement, was insured for $235 million.

Commercial space analysts have said such mishaps are typical of a new launch program and most still see a bright future for Sea Launch.


-- Carl Jenkins (, April 01, 2000

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