On February 1, an unmanned Zenit-3SL rocket suffered engine failure just 40 seconds after liftoff from "Sea Launch," a floating platform in the Pacific owned and operated by an affiliate of Russia's RSC Energia space-hardware manufacturer. The Russian and Ukrainian built rocket took Intelsat's IS-27 communications satellite — slated to replace Intelsat's Galaxy 11 and Intelsat 805 satellites — with it into the ocean.
Cause of the engine failure is unknown, but Sea Launch has promised a full enquiry is underway.
Despite the loss, Intelsat confirms existing satellites will continue to operate as usual. It's fortunate there are existing satellites able to keep bandwidth capacity at demand, but the loss of the new satellite means the loss of some significant advances. It would have included a Ku-band beam, completing Intelsat's Global Mobility project by providing the beam for North Atlantic sea and air routes, and covering Mexico and areas over Central and South America. Once completed, the Intelsat Global Mobility project would have joined beams from several satellites to allow uninterrupted coverage for mobile, maritime and air customers.
The other casualty was a UHF-band payload intended for potential lease to the U.S. Defense Department.
Instelsat has issued a statement reassuring its clients it is working to find appropriate solutions for the planned upgrades. It's unlikely however the $400 million in insurance will adequately cover the resource cost of the satellite, not to mention cover contracts guaranteeing their global coverage.
The failure of this particular Zenit-3SL rocket is part of several Russian built rocket failures over the past few years, including the heavy lifting Proton and smaller Rockot rockets both built by Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow and now under the eyes of failure review boards.
Probably the project with the most at stake, is Land Launch which also uses the Zenit-3SL rocket (although is contracted to a different operator). Land Launch operates out of the well-known and well-used Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan. A failure there could throw a wrench into the shedule of international launches there, and for the outcome of increased Russian space spending in general.
Likely all eyes will be on each of the review boards to determine whether any common deficiencies in Russian built rockets will put their renewed interest in space in a safety and engineering lockdown in the near future.