Sat-ND, 27.12.1997 This Almost Empty Gin Palace
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There is a new piece of space junk. It weighs 2,534 kg, cost US$100 million to build and launch, and it's called Asiasat 3.
For more than six hours after the launch of Asiasat 3 aboard a Proton K rocket, everything seemed to run smoothly (cf. Sat-ND, 24.12.97, which was written some two hours after the launch.) The problems began when the so-called DM 3 acceleration block was to take over from the Proton K, which three stages worked flawlessly, and propel the satellite into its designated transfer orbit.
It didn't work, however. The second firing of the DM 3 block lasted just seconds instead of two minutes for unknown reasons. The DM 3 block, also known as the "fourth stage" of the Proton rocket, is in fact not part of the rocket but of its payload and attached to the satellite.
The accelerator, which unlike the Proton rocket is manufactured by Moscow-based company Energiya, has failed spectacularly in the past: In 1995, a Russian Raduga satellite ended up in a wrong orbit following a DM 3 failure. In November 1996, the Russian probe Mars 96 plunged back to Earth soon after launch the DM 3 block did not ignite (Sat-ND, 17.11.96.) It seems that so far the DM 3 block had not been used for commercial Proton launches.
Sergei Gorbunov, spokesman for the Russian Space Agency quite correctly stated that "Asiasat-3 has been turned into a heap of scrap metal that will be yet another contribution of ours in cluttering up outer space."
Yes, it will event though experts and so-called experts were quoted over the past few days with various predictions concerning the fate of Asiasat 3.
Some said it will fall down to Earth within a few months, others such as Asia Satellite Telecommunications deputy chief executive officer Bill Wade said the satellite would not plunge back to Earth. "It's well beyond the Earth's atmosphere. There's no possible way it can come back to Earth," said Wade.
Rubbish. Not only can the satellite come back to Earth, it will inevitably do so forced by gravity, not by the atmosphere. Konstantin Lantratov, spokesman for the Proton manufacturer Khrunichev, said that Asiasat 3 may fall within several months.
It is more likely that it will take four or five years, and probably the trajectory of the descending satellite can be monitored very closely. There's almost no chance that another piece of space junk will unexpectedly kick Asiasat 3 out of its useless orbit (240 by 36,000 km with an inclination of 51.6°.)
Of course, the satellite has fuel on board, but the reserve probably isn't sufficient for it to reach a proper orbit on its own. It could be used, however, to delay and maybe even in a way to control the satellite's crash back to Earth.
Russian Space Agency's Gorbunov told news agency Itar-Tass the satellite would pose no danger to the public when it finally burst back into Earth's atmosphere. That remains to be seen, of course. There is no written guarantee that all parts of the spacecraft will burn up while re-entering the atmosphere, although this is very likely.
"This incident is very unpleasant and might be fraught with consequences for the commercial side of our business," said Sergei Gorbunov. "Our competitors from the United States, China and France will no doubt use this opportunity to discredit our space program and lure away our customers."
The satellite was fully insured, but officials said it would take at least two years to build a replacement. Nonetheless, this would be soon enough to replace Asiasat 1 at 105.5° E in time, which will reach the end of its service life in 1999. Asiasat has an option to order a replacement satellite from Hughes. Asiasat is also in the final stages of negotiating a contract with Hughes to build Asiasat 4.
Asiasat 3, a Hughes HS601HP model satellite with 28 C-band and 16 Ku-band, was the third satellite of Asia Satellite Telecommunications Holdings Ltd. (Asiasat) of Hong Kong, which is partly owned by the Chinese government, and the first to go into space on a Russian rocket. Asiasat also leases an orbiting Russian satellite, Gorizont 42, also known as Asiasat G, for backup services.
Its predecessors, Asiasat 1 and 2, were put into orbit on Chinese Long March rockets. After the Intelsat-708 massacre, when a Chinese Chang Zheng (Long March) rocket killed at least eleven people, Asiasat decided in March 1996 to have International Launch Services (ILS) put up Asiasat 3. ILS is a joint venture between Lockeed Martin of the USA, Russian and Ukrainian firms.
USELESS FACT: The sale of vodka makes up 10 percent of the Russian government's income.
Motorola recently issued a very, very lengthy press release saying the company had set a new industry record of successfully manufacturing and deploying more satellites, from more countries, more quickly, than any other company in history with its launch on Dec. 8, 1997 of two Iridium satellites aboard a Long March 2C/SD from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in China.
And that wasn't the latest launch five more Iridiums were put into orbit just a few days ago (Sat-ND, 21.12.97.)
"We've developed [sic!] 41 Iridium satellites from three countries, during eight launches, in just eight months," said Durrell Hillis, senior vice president and general manager of Motorola's Space and Systems Technology Group (SSTG).
From May 5, 1997 when the first five Iridium satellites were launched aboard a Boeing Delta II from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, to the seventh launch in California on Nov. 8, 1997, the Iridium program in 1997 accounted for:
16 percent of all launches world-wide, and
42 percent of all satellites launched world-wide.
Motorola said it revolutionized the satellite manufacturing process when it began designing satellites for the Iridium system. Its production factory in Chandler was designed specifically for the Iridium program, as were its innovative satellite manufacturing techniques that have resulted in:
Production of a single Iridium satellite in less than 25 days; and
A dock-to-door Iridium satellite equivalent production rate of approximately 4.3 days.
There are six more launches planned to complete the initial deployment of the 66-satellite Iridium constellation and its six spares. The launches are as follows:
Four of the remaining 31 satellites will be launched from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China aboard a Long March 2C/SD rocket manufactured by China Great Wall Industries Corp.;
Seven will be launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Republic of Kazakhstan, aboard a Proton rocket manufactured by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre, probably not using a DM 3 accelerator block;
19 will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a Boeing Delta II.
EVEN MORE USELESS FACT: The first product Motorola started to develop was a record player for automobiles. At that time the most known player on the market was the Victrola, so they called themselves Motorola.
Bruno Delecour, chairman of France's CanalSatellite, has ruled out a co-operation deal with its rival TPS. Instead, he told French daily Le Figaro that only a merger would make sense.
"Co-ordination deals, even more or less joint actions, as some would like it, would have little interest. They would have no impact on costs and would only benefit the weak one," Delecour was quoted as saying.
"If there must be a common goal, it can only be that of a total merger, the only prospect that would allow all to make more money and for our rival to earn it more quickly," he added.
Earlier, TPS denied reports it was in talks to link up its services with CanalSatellite.
USELESS FACT: King Louis XIX ruled France for a total of fifteen minutes.
Japanese satellite broadcasting firms Japan Sky Broadcasting Corp (JSkyB) and PerfecTV have reached a basic agreement to merge in February.
Currently, terms of the merger are being discussed. The announcement came just a few days after the companies had confirmed that a merger was a possibility (Sat-ND, 21./23.12.97.)
USELESS FACT: Yamaha, established in 1887, was the first piano manufacturer in Japan.
Copyright 1997 by Peter C. Klanowski, pck@LyNet.De. All rights reserved.
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