AMC-14: Killed by Lawyers?

Posted by Sam Churchill on

AMC-14, the wayward SES Americom satellite that was launched March 14th on a Proton launch vehicle, has been declared a total loss.

The satellite was ejected into the wrong orbit and the companies have been looking into efforts to salvage it. SES Americom, the world’s largest commercial satellite firm, owns the satellite and planned to lease capacity to the Echostar for HD satellite services to the home. It was built by Lockheed Martin.

But, according to SpaceDaily, it was not physics that sealed the fate of AMC-14, it was institutional disinterest and an aging patent of questionable validity.

Sources told SpaceDaily that it was possible to bring AMC-14 back via the moon using a lunar flyby process. That would bring it back to GEO Earth orbit where the high powered satellite would have been able to operate for at least four years.

But SES is currently suing Boeing for an unrelated New Skies matter in the order of $50 million dollars – and Boeing told SES that their patent covered the lunar flyby process. But, according to the SpaceDaily article, that patent was only available if SES Americom dropped their lawsuit against Boeing.

SES wants to collect their insurance policy payout. Their insurance company, said those sources, 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”.

“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.”

Posted by Sam Churchill on Friday, April 11th, 2008 at 9:06 pm .

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