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Sunday, 12 March, 2000, 17:54 GMT
Pacific rocket launch fails
Sea Launch
An earlier launch had been successful
The launch of a rocket carrying the first stage of a $1bn constellation of mobile communications satellites has ended in failure.

The second stage of the Ukrainian-made Zenit-3 SL rocket failed to fire, sending its pay-load crashing back to earth.

Sea Launch, the company which launched the rocket from a platform in the Pacific Ocean, says it lost communications with the craft a few minutes after take-off at 1439 GMT.

Satellite
The satellite network should provide global net access
The Sea Launch platform is being operated jointly by the United States, Russia, Norway and Ukraine.

The lost satellite was built by the US Hughes Space and Communications Company.

The rocket was carrying the first of 12 satellites from London-based ICO Global Communications.

The first Sea Launch mission last October did not suffer any technical problems.

A separate launch on Sunday of a Proton rocket from the Baikonur space base in Kazakhstan was a success.

Platform

The Zenit rocket used a refitted North Sea oil rig as a platform for blasting satellites into space.

Sea Launch Commander
New vessel built at Govan, Scotland
Floating rocket assembly factory in port
Mission control facility at sea
200m (660ft) long, 32 (106) wide
By positioning the rig on the equator in the Pacific Ocean, Sea Launch could harness the full 1,600km/h (1000mph) rotation of the Earth to help propel a rocket into space.

This reduces the amount of energy required to put the vehicle into orbit and lowers costs.

ICO is aiming for full commercial operation with all 12 satellites by the autumn of 2002. The satellites will be controlled from ICO's centre at Uxbridge, near London.

Sea Launch
The rig was refitted in Norway
Rob Taylor, of ICO told BBC News Online: "The constellation will provide global mobile communications for data and voice. You'll be able to seamlessly communicate wherever you are in the world, however remote.

"There are lots of places around the world where people and businesses don't have the e-mail, fax and internet access that we take for granted."The initial data transfer rates will be 140kbps, with the potential for upgrades to 384kbps.

ICO was rescued last year from financial trouble by Craig McCaw, founder of Teledesic. The company had already spent $3.1bn and Mr McCaw has pledged another $1.2bn.

However, a further $2.1bn will need to be raised for commercial services to be implemented.

Launch platform Odyssey
Converted North Sea oil drilling platform
Semi-submersible and self-propelled
133 m (436 ft) long, 67 (220) wide
Submerged draft displacement of 51,000 tonnes
The Sea Launch platform, Odyssey, arrived at its launch location (0degN, 154degW) on 9 March, accompanied by the assembly and command vessel Sea Launch Commander.

During the 72-hour countdown, Odyssey's massive buoyancy tanks were flooded to enhance the stability for the launch.

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See also:

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