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Rocket Launch Delayed, Owner of Rescued Satellite Will Have To Wait

May 21, 1992

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ After last week’s nail-biting shuttle mission, the organization that owns the satellite saved by spacewalking astronauts wanted nothing more than a quiet launch Wednesday of an unmanned rocket.

It was quiet all right. The launch was canceled because of a last-minute engine fuel problem, and the Atlas rocket remained on the pad. A new launch date wasn’t set.

The Atlas holds the newest Intelsat communications satellite, smaller and simpler than the one caught by three spacewalkers.

″We hope to make the upcoming operation a lot more boring than the Intelsat rescue operation,″ said Marty Winkler, vice president of launch operations for Atlas maker General Dynamics Corp.

Three spacewalks, and an unprecedented three spacewalkers, were needed to capture the Intelsat-6 satellite and attach a rocket motor that shoved it into high orbit May 14. The craft was expected to reach its final destination 22,300 miles above Earth on Thursday.

No matter what happens to the newest satellite, called Intelsat-K, a rescue effort is out of the question, said Fred Ormsby, spacecraft mission director for the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, or Intelsat.

The rescued Intelsat-6, bumped from the shuttle to an unmanned rocket following the 1986 Challenger accident, was designed to accommodate a rocket motor, Ormsby said.

The new Intelsat-K is not.

Like the Intelsat-6, however, the Intelsat-K is uninsured by the organization. The 122 countries that make up the consortium could take out their own insurance for the Intelsat-K launch. Some did, including the United States, the largest member with a 22 percent interest.

Intelsat officials were no more nervous than usual. Three Intelsat satellites have been sent up since a miswired Titan rocket built by Martin Marietta Corp. left the Intelsat-6 in a worthless low orbit in March 1990; all three were successful.

″This is another launch in Intelsat’s 28-year history,″ said Tony Trujillo, spokesman for the Washington-based Intelsat. ″We’ll have sweaty palms, though.″

General Dynamics Space Systems Division in San Diego still is smarting from a failed launch in April 1991. An Atlas carrying a Japanese broadcasting satellite started tumbling and had to be destroyed six minutes into flight. Fuel line debris was blamed.

Intelsat paid General Dynamics $60 million to send the Intelsat-K into a 22,300-mile orbit.

The $102 million, 3-ton Intelsat-K is to transmit television broadcasts, telephone calls and business data in North America, Europe and parts of South America. General Electric’s astrospace division built it to last 11 years.

The $157 million Intelsat-6, which weighs 4 1/2 tons, has 120,000 telephone circuits and three television lines for simultaneous use. Ground controllers plan to deploy the antennas and solar drum on that craft Saturday.

Intelsat hopes to have both satellites working in time for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, from July 25 to Aug. 9. The two would bring to 19 the number of satellites in Intelsat’s orbiting network.

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