Rocket Woes: Headaches for Satellite, Launch Providers

Space News‘ Peter B. De Selding takes a look at the choices facing Luxembourg-based SES, which owns the AMC-14 telecommunications satellite stuck in a lopsided orbit on March 15 by the failure of a Proton-M upper stage.

The company could use on-board engines to send the spacecraft directly to a geosynchronous orbit. Or it could loop the satellite around the Moon in a gravity-assist maneuver. Either method could use a large amount of the spacecraft’s fuel, cutting into its planned 15-year lifetime.

SES could declare the satellite a total loss and collect on a $192 million insurance policy. However, that option has a significant drawback: SES had leased the AMC-14 spacecraft entirely to satellite-television provider EchoStar of Littleton, Colo. As a result, SES would lose a significant revenue stream.

In a related story, Jeff Foust examines the Proton failure and the broader outlook for the launcher market over at The Space Review. Foust says SES might pursue both options, raising the AMC-14 to a geosynchronous orbit and filing an insurance claim based on the spacecraft’s reduced lifetime.

Foust reports that rocket providers are struggling to keep up with rising demand, which is driving up launch costs. In addition, insurance costs are rising due to a number of recent launch mishaps. The Proton has experienced three failures in the last two years and will likely be grounded for some time. The solution might be to get more launch providers into the market.