Satellite Firm Swaps Rockets for Next Launch

PARIS ? Satellite-fleetoperator AsiaSat has scrapped a contract to launch its AsiaSat 5 spacecraftaboard Sea Launch Co.?s new Land Launch vehicle in favor of an InternationalLaunch Services Proton launch in July or August, AsiaSat announced Feb. 23. Thedecision will cost Hong Kong-based AsiaSat some $35 million in extra launchfees but will put AsiaSat 5 in orbit a year earlier than currently scheduled.

AsiaSattold the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that it had canceled a contract with LongBeach, Calif.-based Sea Launch when it became clear that theLand Launch operation would not be ready for AsiaSat 5 until mid-2010.

AsiaSat hadlong said it could wait no later than mid-2009 for the launch because AsiaSat 5is intended to replace the AsiaSat 2 satellite now at 100.5 degrees east.AsiaSat 2 is scheduled to be retired in mid-2011.

AsiaSat hadsaid it needs to launch AsiaSat 5 soon enough so that, if the launch fails, ithas sufficient time to order a replacement satellite to be in orbit beforeAsiaSat 2 is taken out of service.

Thatrequirement seemed to be satisfiedby Sea Launch when the AsiaSat 5 contract was signed in mid-2006. But thenSea Launch began reporting hiccups in its supply chain, which must feed bothLand Launch and the normal Sea Launch operations.

Land Launchoperates from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Sea Launch?straditional operations are from a floating platform on the equator in thePacific Ocean. Both use the same basic Russian-Ukrainian Zenit-3 rocket.

AsiaSatsaid it had budgeted $180 million for AsiaSat 5, including $45 million for thelaunch, $95 million for the 3,500-kilogram satellite?s construction by SpaceSystems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and $40 million for insurance and otherexpenses.

In its Feb.20 filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, AsiaSat said Sea Launch hadinformed the company that AsiaSat 5?s planned 2009 launch had slipped tomid-2010.

?We havebeen working this issue for some time and we have been very open with all ourcustomers about our schedule,? Sea Launch President Kjell Karlsen said in aFeb. 24 interview. There have been delays in the Land Launch program, and thesedelays have been more than some customers can bear.

Karlsensaid his company expects to launch three Sea Launch rockets and three LandLaunch variants in 2009. The three Sea Launch payloads are the Sicral 1Bmilitary telecommunications satellite for the Italian government; the W7telecommunications satellite for Eutelsat of Paris; and the XM-5radio-broadcast satellite for Sirius XM Satellite Radio of the United States.

The threeLand Launch campaigns scheduled for 2009 are theTelstar 11N satellite for Telesat Canada; the Intelsat IS 15 satellite forIntelsat Ltd. of Washington and Bermuda; and the Measat 3a spacecraft forMeasat Satellite Systems of Malaysia. Karlsen said that there is no reason tothink that the supply-chain issues that have slowed Sea Launch?s activity willprevent these six launches from occurring as scheduled.

AsiaSatsaid it had secured a commitment from Reston, Va.-based International LaunchServices to launch AsiaSat 5 between July 15 and Aug. 15 for $80 million.

The HongKong company said it now expects the entire AsiaSat 5 program to cost $215million ? a $35 million increase due to the higher Proton cost ? implying thatneither the construction nor the insurance costs will change as a result of theshift from Land Launch to Proton. AsiaSat also apparently expects to receive afull refund from Sea Launch given that a mid-2010 launch date is sufficientlybeyond the contractual launch date as to permit the contract to be terminatedfor default. Karlsen confirmed that this was in fact the case.

AsiaSat,which is now preparing an AsiaSat 6 satellite, said it may elect to preserve aLand Launch option for that satellite instead of seeking a refund of theprelaunch payments it had made to Sea Launch.

In a Feb.24 statement, International Launch Services President Frank McKenna said: ?Dueto another customer?s change in plans we have hardware and manifestavailability to support AsiaSat?s schedule needs.?

InternationalLaunch Services spokewoman Karen Monaghan said the mid-2009 Proton slot openedwhen development of CMBStar, a Loral-built satellite ordered by EchoStar Corp.of Englewood, Colo., and intended to provide mobile television service inChina, was suspended.

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Charles Q. Choi
Contributing Writer

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at