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Sunday, September 1, 2019

ChinaSat 18 failure ! ~ and loss for Insurers


Does Insurers have a pie in Space ?  .. ...  The Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC), is  People's Republic of China space vehicle launch facility (spaceport) approximately 64 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of Xichang, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan.The facility became operational in 1984 and is primarily used to launch powerful thrust rockets and geostationary communications and weather satellites.

ZX 18 (ChinaSat 18) is a Chinese communications satellite.  The first of the third-generation DFH-4 craft, was sent into space on 19th Aug 2019  using a Long March 3B launcher. However, despite initial reports that the satellite had arrived in its correct geosynchronous orbit, it has since been experiencing ‘anomalies’.  Media reports suggested that its days might be numbered. The launch last week was undertaken by a Long March 3B launcher, the most powerful vehicle on the Chinese space fleet. Normally capable of launching up to 5,100kg into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, this particular vehicle was the 3B/G2 version, enhanced to increase its capacity up to 5,500kg.

The satellite was launched on Monday 19th August from the Xichang space center in Sichuan, Southwest China. The Long March 3B launcher successfully took off at 20:03 local time. Following this, separation into the correct geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) was confirmed.However, shortly after separation, it was reported by Xinhua that the satellite was experiencing ‘anomalies’, and that engineers were investigating. According to Seradata, recovery attempts were underway.Once launched, it should have been able to provide connectivity for 15 years or more.

There have been failures of space missions - Seradata reports that the satellite was insured to the value of $250m, which adds more interest for the Insurers.Many other DFH-4 satellites have been successfully launched, with more than 20 in orbit;  however, two have notably suffered failure, prematurely ending their service.Sinosat 2, launched in 2006, failed to deploy its solar arrays. Also, in 2007, NIGCOMSAT 1 also had a failure of its solar array. However, of the DFH-4E satellites, of which Chinasat 18 is one, only one other has been built. APStar 6D, owned by APT Satellite Company Ltd, is due to be launched later in 2019.

The deployment of Chinasat 18 marked an expansion of China Satcom’s coverage across the nation. One partner set to benefit from this was Viasat, who earlier this year announced a partnership to provide inflight connectivity to airline passengers in Chinese airspace.Passengers on Viasat connected aircraft were to be allowed to roam onto China Satcom’s network when in Chinese airspace, and conversely passengers on China Satcom equipped aircraft would be able to roam globally on the Viasat network.Aside of Viasat, Israel based networking specialist Gilat were also involved in the project. According to a press release, Gilat was to provide the ground network for Chinasat 18 and its sister satellite, Chinasat 16.

For China Satcom, the successful deployment of Chinasat 18 would have completed the company’s HTS Ka-band coverage over all of China. The loss of the satellite must come as a significant blow to the company.After lifting off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 8:03 p.m. local time (8:03 a.m. EDT; 1203 GMT), the rocket should have deployed the Zhongxing-18 satellite, also known as Chinasat-18, into orbit about 25 minutes into the mission, according to NASAspaceflight.com. However, more than half a day later, officials  were not able to provide any  update on the condition of the satellite or whether it separated from the rocket as planned.

 The apparent failure of the ChinaSat-18 telecom satellite, which remains in a transfer orbit more than a week after launch, has underwriters bracing for a claim that is all but certain to wipe out space insurance profits for a second year in a row, according to spacenews.com and other media.  Reports suggest that  ChinaSatcom’s ChinaSat-18 satellite, which industry sources told SpaceNews was insured for $250 million, encountered a potentially mission-ending problem following its reportedly successful Aug. 19 launch aboard a Long March 3B rocket.

Though underwritten by the People’s Insurance Company of China, ChinaSat-18 was reinsured on the international market, meaning foreign insurers are likely on the hook for much of any claim China Satcom files, industry sources said. Industry sources said paying for a ChinaSat-18 claim, combined with July’s Vega launch failure that destroyed the Falcon Eye-1 remote sensing satellite the UAE insured for around $415 million, will likely exceed total insurance premiums for 2019. “It’s definitely going to be a losing year” for space insurers, one industry source said. “Last year was a losing year and this year is going to be a losing year also.”

ChinaSat-18 was rumored to have suffered a solar array deployment failure as soon as doubts about the mission surfaced. “People are starting to draw their own conclusions, but there’s nothing official,” an industry source said. China Satcom has yet to file a claim, the source said. Of China’s 21 DFH-4-based satellites, two have suffered solar array issues — the Nigerian communication satellite NigComSat-1 in 2008 and SinoSat-2 in 2006 — leading to their failures.  If ChinaSat-18 failed to deploy its solar arrays, its batteries would likely have become  depleted by now, making it impossible to contact the satellite.

China Satcom operates 16 geostationary satellites. The company’s expansion into Ka-band had caught the attention of U.S. operator Viasat, which announced a partnership with China Satcom in April to provide inflight connectivity in China using its network and domestic market access.

So another big loss looms over Insurers.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
31st Aug 2019.

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