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Sea Launch Concludes Investigation of Launch Failure

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Tue Jun 12, 2007 1:04 pm
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Long Beach, Calif. –The Sea Launch Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB) has concluded its review of the findings of an interagency CIS Joint Commission, which has been investigating the cause of the unsuccessful launch of January 30, 2007. All systems have been cleared for operations, pending completion and tests of all repairs on the Launch Platform.

The commission concluded on March 12 that the failure initiated in the liquid oxygen (LOx) turbopump section of the RD-171M main engine. Following the initial FROB meeting in April with the commission, the Sea Launch partners performed internal inspections of already manufactured and tested RD-171M engines, with the objective of confirming the LOx feed system and pumps were free of debris.

The FROB met again with the commission, May 24-June 1, to review results of the engine inspections and further findings. FROB Chairman Kirk Pysher, vice president and chief systems engineer for Sea Launch, reported that members of the FROB concurred with the commission findings, conclusions and recommendations. “The FROB resolved that the CIS team, led by Energomash experts, manufacturers of the RD-171M main engine, presented sufficient facts and data to substantiate and justify the Joint Commission’s findings and conclusions,” said Pysher. “The FROB concurs that the anomaly initiated within the RD-171M LOx turbopump as the result of a metallic object becoming lodged between the pump’s moving and stationary components. This object ignited and burned as a result of friction-induced heat. The combustion of the object set off a string of events that led to the destruction of the LOx pump, RD-171M engine and ultimately the Zenit 3SL.”

The commission performed a thorough review of operations on the RD-171M engine, following the standard full duration acceptance test that each manufactured engine undergoes at the Energomash test stand. This review included the RD-171M return-to-flight engine currently installed on a Zenit-2 vehicle awaiting launch from the Baikonur Space Center this summer. The commission found two operations with the potential for introduction of foreign object debris (FOD) into the LOx feed system. The FROB confirmed that the commission identified the necessary corrective actions to preclude these operations as potential sources for FOD introduction in the future.

“The commission has conducted an extensive and thorough review of the processes, hardware and systems related to the engine and its supporting systems,” said Rob Peckham, president and general manager of Sea Launch. “The Sea Launch FROB completed its work with no constraints on continuing hardware production. We are now continuing to move forward to our launch operations in October. I am confident that we have not only identified the cause of the launch failure in January, but that we are also doing everything possible to ensure that this incident will never happen again. I am extremely proud of the professionalism and diligence demonstrated by everyone involved throughout this process and look forward to regaining our launch tempo.”

In parallel with the investigation and corrective actions, the Sea Launch team is proceeding on schedule with repairs and re-certification of the Odyssey Launch Platform and associated launch support equipment. The Launch Platform is currently en route to a shipyard in British Columbia, where a team of specialists will be performing heavy industrial repair work and painting over the next several weeks. Sea Launch expects to complete these activities and conduct marine tests by the end of the summer. Progress of “Mission Recovery” is posted on the Sea Launch website at www.sea-launch.com.

About Sea Launch Company
Sea Launch Company, LLC, based in Long Beach, Calif., provides heavy lift launch services to commercial satellite customers. With the advantage of a launch site on the Equator, the Zenit-3SL rocket can lift a heavier spacecraft mass or provide longer life on orbit, offering best value plus schedule assurance.

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