New Chinese Satellite Suffers Life-Shortening Leak

PARIS? A new Chinese broadcast satellite has a leak inits helium-pressurization system that will likely force ground teams toresortto extreme measures to bring it into a useable orbit and reduce itsoperationallife, industry officials said Sept. 10.

Themalfunction occurred on Sinosat-6, also known as Chinasat-6A,launched from China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 5. Theproblem,which resembles glitches on two European telecommunications satelliteslaunchedin recent years, will trigger an insurance claim estimated at around$60million, according to one industry official.

Sinosat-6,built to last for 15 years in geostationaryorbit, may secure a 10-year operating life, depending on how seriousthe leakis. Owned by China Satellite Communications Corp of Beijing, thesatellite wasinsured for $200 million for a total loss, with partial lossesresulting in apro rata claim in most cases.

Chineseunderwriters took about one-third of thecoverage, with Western insurers taking the rest, according to oneofficial.

TheSinosat-6anomaly will put an end to hopes that 2010 would be a yearwithout a singleclaim for launch or satellite failures but will not, on its own,threaten theprofitability of spaceinsurance underwriters this year.

Theglitch, which officials say appears to have nothingto do with the Chinese Long March 3B vehicle that placed Sinosat 6 intoorbit,will also further undermine the reputation of the DFH-4platformthat Sinosat-6 uses. The platform, introduced less than five years ago,suffered in-orbit failures of the Sinosat 2 and Nigcomsat-1 satellites.DHF-4,developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, is the platformChinauses to export telecommunications satellites and Chinese Long Marchvehicles asa package. Several DFH-4 platforms have since been launched without aproblem.

Thetwo previous DFH-4 failures were traced to solararray deployment issues, while Sinosat-6?s problem is that it is unabletodeliver full helium-provided pressure to the satellite?s fuel tank.

Asimilar type of issue has trimmed by about one-thirdthe life expectancy of the Amazonas satellite owned by Hispasat ofSpain. ForAfrica?s Rascom consortium, a similar leak reduced the estimatedoperating lifeto no more than three to four years.

Sinosat-6,carrying 24 C-band, eight Ku-band and oneS-band transponder, is intended to replace the Sinosat 3 satellite at125degrees east.

Thisarticle was provided by Space News,dedicated to coveringall aspects of the space industry.

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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