An under-performing third-stage of a Long March 3B-G2 rocket has left the Chinasat 9A Direct-To-Home (DTH) broadcast satellite in an incorrect orbit, following its launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, at 1610 GMT on 18 June. The target orbit was an elliptical Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), with an apogee of circa 35,800 km. However, the spacecraft has found itself much lower than that with an apogee of around 16,357 km and a perigee of 193 km. Another complicating factor is the satellite’s 25.7 degree inclination from the equator, which will need cancelling if it is to reach the Geostationary Orbit (GEO) belt.
CASC (China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation) released a statement confirming the mis-injection, but stating that the satellite was healthy and its solar arrays and antennas had successfully deployed. It is not yet known if the controllers have figured out a way to return the satellite to a usable orbit. If they do not, the spacecraft will be declared a total loss. It was insured for a value of US$210 million, of which about US$100 was on the Chinese insurance market. However, the international market’s exposure will be close to the full amount as Chinese insurers usually reinsure a major part of their risk.
The spacecraft utilises the CFH-4 platform built by CAST (China Academy of Space Technology), carries 24 Ku-band transponders and is estimated to weigh over 5 tons. Before this launch, the Long March 3 series – consisting of the 3A/3B/3B-G2/3C minor variants – had successfully completed 49 consecutive missions since its last failure in August 2009.
Update on 6 July 2017: Chinese authorities noted that the spacecraft had reached its operational position – albeit with a loss of some of the spacecraft’s life as it had to use its own fuel to recover itself. Insurers are expecting a claim for 60% loss of life equating to a US$129 million.