A Ukrainian-made Zenith-3SL rocket carrying a US-made Intelsat-27 spacecraft has crashed into the ocean seconds after being launched from a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean. A search operation is currently underway.
"Approximately 40 seconds after liftoff of the launch of the Intelsat 27 spacecraft, all telemetry was lost indicating a loss of mission," Sea Launch, the company facilitating the launch, announced on their website.
The Odyssey floating platform, owned by Sea Launch, has not been damaged, nor the remote flight control vessel six kilometers from the launch site.
The US Intelsat-27 spacecraft, built by Boeing Satellite Systems, was mounted onto a Zenit-3SL launch vehicle to be lifted off the ocean-based Odyssey platform at the Earth’s equator.
Space officials said the likely cause of the crash is an engine shutdown due to an incorrect launch trajectory. "Most likely due to high ocean waves, the rocket took a wrong trajectory right off start, that's where the system began sending auto-commands for a halt," Interfax reported, quoting a source in a space bureau.
Russian vice premier Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter comment that an automatic command to stop the rocket’s engines was made 20 seconds into the launch.
The Zenith rocket is joint project between Russian and Ukrainian space companies. The first two stages of the launch vehicle were designed and built in Ukraine, and the third stage is Russian-made. The Intelsat-27 satellite, made by Boeing, was designed to transmit communication signals over the US and Europe.
Sea Launch is an international company founded in 1995 that unites space construction bureaus from Ukraine, Russia, US and Norway. It is a first transnational commercial project for the creation and use of sea-based space launch pads. The Odyssey floating platform is designed for equatorial space launches, where the Earth’s rotation is most effectively exploited.
Since 2010, 95 percent of shares of Sea Launch belong to Russian company Energia Overseas Ltd., a subsidiary of Russian rocket and space corporation Energia, which oversees the technical aspects of the projects.
Odyssey has launched a total of 33 rockets. Two of those projects were failures, and one was partially successful. In the latest launch, in April 2012, a similar Zenith-3SL rocket took the Eutelsat W5A satellite into space. Friday's Intelsat-27 mission failure, however, may jeopardize the company's schedule for 2013 launches.