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DirecTV 11 Makes it to Geosynchronous Orbit, AMC 14 Doesn’t

Last Saturday (March 15) a Russian Proton Breeze-M launch vehicle failed to place the AMC-14 satellite into geosynchronous orbit. SES Americom, operator of the satellite, confirmed that “an anomaly during the second burn of the fourth stage of the rocket resulted in the satellite being placed short of the planned geostationary transfer orbit.”

“While we are not in a position to comment on the possible causes of this launch anomaly, the satellite is healthy and is operating nominally in a stable orbit under the control of Lockheed Martin,” SES Engineering President Martin Halliwert said Monday. “SES and Lockheed Martin engineers are currently exploring various options for bringing AMC-14 into its proper geostationary orbit.”

The company said that in all of the various scenarios to redirect the spacecraft, onboard fuel will have to be used to propel the satellite to its correct orbital position, which will reduce its service life. It also noted that its investment in AMC-14 is insured for partial and total loss. As a result of this loss, other news reports indicated the price of satellite insurance was likely to rise.

EchoStar Corp. had contracted for all of the transponders on the satellite, which was intended to be positioned at 61.5 degrees West Longitude.

“We are confident that the engineering teams at Lockheed Martin and SES will find a way to place AMC-14 into the correct orbit in a manner that our customer’s requirements can be met,” said Edward Horowitz, president and CEO of SES Americom. “We cannot, at this time, speculate on the impact of the orbit raising activities on both the in-service date and the service life of AMC-14. We will provide additional information in due time.”

DirecTV had better luck with the delayed launch of its DirecTV 11 satellite. A Zenit-3SL rocket lifted off at 3:48 pm PDT from the Sea-Launch Odyssey Launch Platform in the Pacific Ocean precisely on schedule. According to Sea-Launch, “All systems performed nominally throughout the flight. The Block DM-SL upper stage inserted the 5,923 kg (13,058 lb) DirecTV 11 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit, on its way to a final orbital position at 99.2 degrees West Longitude. Boeing acquired a signal from the spacecraft at 10:44 p.m. PDT (05:44 GMT), at the Hartebeesthoek Tracking facility in South Africa.” DrecTV plans to use the satellite to deliver HDTV programming and local HD channels to subscribers throughout the United States.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.