Sea Launch Zenit loss blamed on gimbal control pump

Washington DC
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This story is sourced from Flight International
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The 1 February loss of a Sea Launch Zenit-3SL appears due to a fault within a pump that powers the thrust directional control system of the liquid oxygen/kerosene-fueled RD-171 engine, according to parent company Energia.

The Zenit lost directional control almost immediately after lift-off from Sea Launch's converted oil platform in the Pacific Ocean. A pump that powers the machinery which controls the direction of the exhaust nozzle appears to have failed. Roughly 11s after liftoff, according to Sea Launch, the vehicle exceeded its pitch limitations, causing an automatic engine shutdown 20s into the flight.

The rocket impacted the Pacific Ocean around 20s later, destroying both the rocket and the satellite it was meant to send into orbit. Sea Launch declined to comment beyond the statement issued.

Its payload, a Boeing-built  Intelsat 27 satellite, was meant to replace two functional but obsolete communications satellites in geostationary orbit. Intelsat 27 was fully insured, says Intelsat, and no customer disruption is anticipated. The company declined to comment further.

Energia announced the formation of a review board to determine the root cause of the crash, and has suspended potential launches until the cause is established. While Sea Launch has no solid customers on its launch manifest, it often serves as a backup should the manifests of other vehicles, such as Khrunichev's Proton, become too full.

The company has been in serious financial straits since the 2009 loss of another rocket and subsequent bankruptcy, from which the company only emerged in 2012. Owner Energia has recently offered Sea Launch for purchase by the Russian government.

Energia and partner Yuzhnoye were sued on 4 February by Boeing, a former partner in the joint venture that formed Sea Launch in the 1990s. Though Boeing withdrew from the project, the company claims it is owed $350 million by Energia and Yuzhnoye.