W3B Failure: Blame ITAR?

Posted: March 22, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , , , ,

From Space News:

…investigation into the loss of Eutelsat’s W3B telecommunications satellite less than 24 hours after launch last October has concluded that the failure was caused by a sudden, catastrophic leak in a single propellant tube connected to one of the satellite’s 16 thruster motors…

And the usual suspect (workmanship) was blamed.  Well, workmanship and ITAR (kinda sorta), the International Traffic in Arms Regulations which control the export of U.S.-built satellite parts.

…W3B was originally intended for launch aboard a Chinese Long March rocket. Because the U.S. government forbids U.S. satellite components from being exported to China, satellites launched there must use non-U.S. hardware in order to be beyond the reach of ITAR.

But when Thales Alenia Space ran short of spare ITAR-free components it wanted to take to China for the launch preparations, Eutelsat opted to switch to a European Ariane 5 rocket rather than risk a delay in the launch.

Once that decision was made, the need for the more expensive ITAR-free components disappeared and Thales Alenia Space thought it prudent to replace some ITAR-free hardware and save it for future use.

Pop guru Stephen Bishop advised ‘you better save it for a rainy day’ and that’s the idea that was being pursued.

However, as the saying goes, test software long enough and it’ll work; test hardware long enough and it’ll fail.

The corollary seems to be this: change enough flight hardware and risk is increased and not decreased.  And yes, W3B may have failed anyway.

Save your ITAR-free propellant tubes for a rainy day
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