Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Intelsat IS-19 Deploys Damaged Solar Array

Intelsat's IS-19 communication satellite, which will provide telecommunications services and broadband coverage in the Pacific Ocean region, finally deployed its south solar array yesterday, after keeping it stowed for 13 days. The solar array sustained severe damage during launch, and was stuck in the stowed position for several days. Once deployed, operators estimated that the damage reduced the array's power-collecting capacity by half. The spacecraft is still operational, but will only be able to reach 75% power capacity.
Credit: Space Systems/Loral

IS-19 was built by Space Systems/Loral, in Palo Alto, CA, and launched by the Swiss company Sea Launch. Both sides continue to deflect blame for the damage, but Sea Launch did report an "unexplained pressure event" 72 seconds into the launch, which mirrors a similar event detected in the Sea Launch rocket in 2004, when launching another Space Systems/Loral satellite (Telstar 14/Estrela do Sul 1) whose solar array never deployed.

Sea Launch has released launch telemetry indicating that "all systems performed nominally throughout the launch profile...Boeing engineers did notice an unexpected, isolated event around 72 seconds after launch" . They cheekily point the finger by adding "while it is premature to speculate on its origin…it bears a striking resemblance to a prior Space Systems/Loral mission". 

It is worth noting that Space Systems/Loral has a small history of challenged solar arrays. The company also built Telstar 14R (Estrela so Sul 2), which experienced a problem deploying the solar arrays after launch as well, but was launched on a Russian Proton rocket.

The Sea Launch platform - a converted
oil rig. Credit: Sea Launch
Sea Launch is an interesting company - it launches its Zenith 3SL rockets from a converted oil rig which is towed from Long Beach, California to the middle of the Pacific Ocean right on the equator, an optimal location for launching satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbits. The company was formed in 1999 as a joint venture between companies from Norway, Russia, the Ukraine, and the United States, and is managed by Boeing. It recently emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 and has had two successful launches in as many years.

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