Sea Launch Flies; SpaceX Does Not

By Guy Norris

April 20 saw contrasting fortunes for launch attempts from the Pacific, with Sea Launch successfully placing Telespazio's SICRAL 1B communications satellite into a transfer orbit while Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) was forced to delay launch of its first commercial payload due to a potential compatibility issue between the Falcon 1 vehicle and the payload.

Sea Launch's Zenit-3SL vehicle lifted off at 4:16 a.m. EDT from the Odyssey launch platform, positioned on the equator at 154 degrees West Longitude. Carrying the Thales Alenia Space-built Italsat 3000 spacecraft, the Zenit-3SL's Block DM-SL upper stage inserted the 6,697-pound vehicle with its SICRAL 1B satellite into a high-perigee geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Sea Launch said shortly after the spacecraft separated from the upper stage that Telespazio's operators at the Fucino Space Center in Italy acquired its first signals from orbit and confirmed its health. "Based on preliminary data, all Sea Launch system flight parameters were nominal and injection accuracy was excellent," added the Long Beach, Calif.-based company.

Designed to provide communications services for the Italian Ministry of Defense, NATO and allied nations, the SICRAL 1B payload includes one EHF/Ka-band transponder, three UHF-band transponders and five active SHF-band transponders.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is working to resolve a suspected compatibility issue with the Malaysian ATSB-built RazakSAT satellite before rescheduling the launch on a Falcon 1 from its Omelek Island facility on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Central Pacific.

The original launch window for the mission, the fifth for the Falcon 1, was scheduled to open on April 20 at 4 p.m. Pacific time (midnight April 19 EDT).

SpaceX said that "while both the Falcon 1 vehicle and satellite passed all preliminary checkouts and are cleared for launch, a concern has been identified regarding the potential impact of predicted vehicle environments on the satellite. Based on these concerns, the SpaceX team is evaluating options to minimize this impact and ensure mission success."

The company denied reports that the vehicle had been damaged before the launch attempt. RazakSAT is equipped with a high-resolution medium-aperture camera, and will be launched into a near equatorial orbit to monitor land-resource use in Malaysia.

Odyssey launch platform photo: Sea Launch

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