1992 Tough Year For China’s Fledgling Int’l Launch Service
BEIJING (AP) _ When a Long March rocket carrying an Australian satellite blasted off from a narrow valley in Sichuan province in December, China’s bold move into the international launch industry never looked brighter.
In a matter of seconds, however, debris from the Hughes Space and Communications Co. satellite was raining down on the rugged hills.
A month later, it isn’t known what wrecked the satellite or how the disaster will effect the ambitious launch business China hopes will bring it riches and prestige.
Both China and Hughes have been careful not to place blame for the Dec. 21 accident. But China maintains its rocket performed flawlessly.
″The launch mission was a complete success,″ said Zhang Lihui, spokeswoman of the Aeronautics and Astronautics Industry Ministry.
″We can’t consider it a successful launch if the satellite was destroyed,″ counters Fran Slimmer, spokeswoman for Los Angeles-based Hughes.
The company is building a replacement communications satellite for Optus Communications of Sydney, Australia. It will not decide whether the mission will be launched by China until after the investigation of the Sichan misfortune, said Slimmer.
A Hughes team returned from China on Jan. 14 after a week in Beijing and the launch site, Slimmer said.
Hughes believes the disaster can be traced to a fireball about 48 seconds into flight but hasn’t yet determine whether it was in the rocket or satellite, she said.
Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong newspaper partly owned by Beijing, quoted knowledgable sources Wednesday as saying there was a small explosion in the satellite that blew off the surrounding nose cone.
An official with China Great Wall Industry Corp., which launched the rocket, said the report was basically correct.
In the meantime, potential customers are eagerly awaiting results of the investigation.
″Asiasat is obviously very keen and very interested to find out the final report,″ said Yahui Chiu, operations manager of the Hong Kong-based consortium that will soon choose among proposals from China, the United States, France and Russia to launch a communications satellite in two years.
China launched its first foreign commercial satellite three years ago. So anxious was China for the event to make a splash that it flew a planeload of executives and journalists into remote Xichang from Hong Kong to witness the blastoff.
That 1990 launch of Asiasat’s first satellite was a source of great pride in this developing country, eliciting effusive praise from China’s top leaders.
Chiu said Asiasat chose China because it could provide a launch vehicle on short notice and the price was right - a bit more than $30 million. Private U.S. launch companies have complained of being undercut by Chinese government subsidies.
1992 was to have seen a big leap forward for the program, with three foreign satellites scheduled for launch.
A Swedish satellite was placed in orbit with no trouble, but an Australian communications satellite failed to lift off in March because of a short- circuit. It was finally launched in August. Four months later its sister satellite was lost.
China Great Wall officials have no foreign satellite launches scheduled this year and only one next years. The $40 million contract for a June 1994 launch was signed with Asia Pacific Telecommunications of Hong Kong a week after last month’s disaster.