Boeing Patent Shuts Down AMC-14 Lunar Flyby Salvage Attempt
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 10, 2008
Attempts to salvage a wayward GEO comsat have come unstuck in the face of institutional disinterest and an aging patent of questionable validity.
The AMC-14 commercial geostationary satellite was launched in March by a Proton launch vehicle into space just short of its minimum geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
SES Americom, the world's largest commercial satellite firm, owns the satellite and was to lease capacity on AMC-14 to the Echostar group.
Following the failed launch, SES Americom looked into how they might salvage the satellite in a manner similar to the Asiasat-3 salvage in 1998.
However, SpaceDaily has now learned that a plan to salvage AMC-14 was abandoned a week ago when SES gave up in the face of patent issues relating to the lunar flyby process used to bring wayward GEO birds back to GEO Earth orbit.
Sources have told SpaceDaily that it was possible to bring AMC-14 back via the moon to a stable GEO orbit where the high powered satellite would have been able to operate for at four years and probably longer.
In the face of unrelated legal battles between the current patent owner Boeing and the satellite's owner SES Americom - any efforts to salvage AMC-14 have been cast aside.
Primarily this is because SES is currently suing Boeing for an unrelated New Skies matter in the order of $50 million dollars - and Boeing told SES that the patent was only available if SES Americom dropped the lawsuit.
Industry sources have told SpaceDaily that the patent is regarded as legal "trite", as basic physics has been rebranded as a "process", and that the patent wouldn't stand up to any significant level of court scrutiny and was only registered at the time as "the patent office was incompetent when it came to space matters".
SES has decided not to pursue any legal options against Boeing and wants to collect their insurance policy payout. However, their insurance company was not being fully briefed on the options and at this time is planning to pay the policy out.
Separately, another company has approached the insurers about buying the spacecraft for salvage using the lunar flyby option. Initially, the insurers were surprised as they had no knowledge of this option and suggested that they contact SES Americom directly.
While most satellite insurance policies allow the insurer to take ownership of a satellite when they pay a claim, they rarely do this. The default is instead to leave "ownership" with the operators, who are then legally obliged to safely deorbit the satellite or move the satellite into a GEO parking orbit.
At this stage SES Americom is working with a major US space consultancy to rapidly deorbit the satellite - as early as this Friday. SpaceDaily has been told that various attempts by third parties to buy the satellite have been ignored and both parties are "eager to splash the satellite within days".
earlier related report
"SES and Lockheed Martin have carefully examined all the available options for repositioning this satellite into its intended geostationary orbit," said Edward Horowitz, President and CEO of SES AMERICOM.
"Unfortunately, none of those options would allow effective use of the spacecraft. The various repositioning scenarios presented carry unacceptable risks, and would result in a severely shortened life of the satellite. Therefore, we have no choice but to claim a total loss of the satellite with our insurers."
AMC-14 was built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, and launched on a Proton/Breeze M rocket provided by ILS (International Launch Services) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The launch of AMC-14 failed on March 15 when 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 an initial assessment of the available options to reposition the satellite appeared encouraging, more detailed examinations by SES and Lockheed Martin engineers determined that the various scenarios could not provide a reasonable chance of success.
Mark Rigolle, Chief Financial Officer of SES commented: "The loss of any satellite is a disappointment, and the failure of AMC-14 means there will be no revenues to come from this programme. However, SES is fully insured for its investment, and there will be no negative P and L impact from the accelerated writedown of AMC-14.
"We expect to receive the insurance proceeds of approximately USD 150 million in the next few months, thereby enhancing our cash position. The rest of our business in North America and worldwide has no connection with, and is unaffected by, this launch failure."
While AMC-14 is currently in a stable orbit, SES is exploring plans to retire the satellite.
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