CHINA'S COMMERCIAL launch business was dealt a severe blow on 14 February when the maiden flight of its Long March 3B ended in an explosion at T+20s over the Xichang launch centre on 14 February, after the booster went out of control.

The Loral Space-built Intelsat 708 communications satellite it carried was destroyed.

Falling debris from the explosion caused some deaths and injuries on the ground.

It was Intelsat's first use of a Chinese vehicle, and its first spacecraft loss since an Ariane failure in May 1986.

Two scheduled 3B launches of communications satellites this year and, indeed, China's future in the commercial launch market, must now be in doubt. It has successfully launched six commercial communications satellites since April 1990, but has lost three worth over $800 million.

The 3B version is a Long March 3A with the four strap-on motors of the 2E, and is capable of placing 4,800kg into geostationary transfer orbit, matching the most-powerful Ariane 4 model.

China was scheduled to launch five commercial satellites aboard the 3B - including two Intelsat 8s and the Echostar 2 and Apstar 2R satellites. The former had already also been manifested for a Russian Proton flight. Further defections to other vehicles are expected.

Long March 3B exploded after 20s

Source: Flight International