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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Satellite Launches in the PRC: Hughes

page 1

Hughes Space and Communications International, Inc. (Hughes) attempted to launch two communications satellites from the PRC that exploded before reaching orbit, one in 1992 and one in 1995. Allegations regarding technology transfer arose in connection with failure analysis investigations conducted by Hughes employees in the aftermath of these failed launches. Specifically, in 1992 and 1995, China Great Wall Industries Corporation, a PRC government entity, launched two Hughes satellites manufactured for Australian (Optus B2) and Asian (Apstar 2) customers from a PRC launch facility in Xichang, PRC.

Both satellites were launched on a Long March 2E rocket. In both cases, an explosion occurred after take-off and before separation of the satellite. Hughes investigated the causes of both of these failed launches and determined that the rocket was the cause of the failures.

In the course of the investigations, Hughes communicated technical information regarding the rocket to the PRC that assisted the PRC in improving the Long March 2E rocket. The activities of Hughes employees in connection with the investigation of the failed launch in 1992 resulted in the transmission to the PRC of technical information that appears to have been approved by a U.S. Government representative but not properly licensed. In the case of the 1995 Hughes failure investigation, Hughes employees exported technical information that also was approved by a U.S. Government representative but should not have been authorized for export to the PRC.

In both cases, Hughes disclosed information to the PRC that related to improving the Long March 2E fairing, a portion of the rocket that protects the payload during launch. Such information was outside the scope of the original licenses Hughes obtained from the State and Commerce Departments, respectively, with respect to the export and launch of the Optus B2 and Apstar 2 satellites. Hughes claims that the 1993 Optus B2 failure analysis disclosures were cleared in advance by U.S. Government officials, but neither Hughes nor the pertinent U.S. Government agencies retained records that would substantiate this claim fully.

The lessons learned by the PRC from Hughes during the 1995 Apstar 2 failure investigation are directly applicable to fairings on other rockets, including those used to launch PRC military satellites.

Although the Long March 2E has not been used since 1995, it is possible that the PRC may have transferred the lessons learned from this launch failure investigation to its ballistic missile programs. These lessons could lead to the development of a more reliable fairing for use with advanced payloads on military ballistic missiles.

Hughes obtained a clearance for the 1995 disclosures that was improperly issued by a Commerce Department official. Hughes was confident that the cause of the 1992 launch failure on the PRCís Long March 2E rocket was the fairing. Hughes then ascertained with more certainty that the fairing was responsible for the 1995 launch failure. Hughes required that the PRC take appropriate corrective measures so that future launches of Hughes satellites on the Long March 2E rocket could occur and be insured.

Hughes employees conveyed to the PRC the engineering and design information necessary to identify and remedy the structural deficiencies of the fairing. At the time of the 1992 failure, the export of both the satellite and any information that might improve the rocket were subject to State Department licensing jurisdiction.

Hughes knew that the fairing was part of the rocket and that a State Department license was required to discuss improvements with the PRC. Although Hughes did not have a license to disclose information to the PRC relating to improvement of the fairing, Hughes, nonetheless, made such disclosures. Hughes claims that each disclosure was authorized by the Defense Technology Security Administration monitor. Contemporaneous Hughes records partially support this assertion. The monitor says he doubts that he in fact approved the disclosure, but says he cannot fully recall these matters.

Neither Hughes nor any relevant U.S. Government agency has been able to produce records substantiating all of the claimed approvals. Even if such approvals were in fact given, they would have exceeded the authority of the Defense Technology Security Administration monitor since he was not empowered to expand the scope of the license granted by the State Department. The monitor also should have known that a separate license was needed for the launch failure analysis activities. By the time of the 1995 failure investigation, partial jurisdiction for commercial satellites had been transferred to the Commerce Department, but licensing for improvements to any part of the rocket, such as the fairing, remained with the State Department.

Hughes officials who were responsible for the launch failure investigation in 1995 knew that technical information that would improve the rocket, including the fairing, was still subject to State Department jurisdiction and was not licensed for export. Nonetheless, Hughes sought Commerce Department approval to disclose information regarding the fairing to the PRC. A Commerce Department official, without consulting with Defense Department or State Department experts, approved that disclosure, he says, on the assumption that the fairing was part of the satellite, not the rocket. He now acknowledges that this decision was a mistake.

The Defense Department recently determined that the information Hughes made available to the PRC was sufficiently specific to inform the PRC of the kinds of rocket changes and operational changes that would make the Long March 2E, and perhaps other rockets, more reliable. In particular, Hughes assisted the PRC in correcting the deficiencies in its models of the stresses or loads (such as buffeting and wind shear) that the rocket and payload experience during flight.

There are differing views within the U.S. Government as to the extent to which the information that Hughes imparted to the PRC may assist the PRC in its ballistic missile development. There is agreement that any such improvement would pertain to reliability and not to range or accuracy. It is not clear, at present, whether the PRC will use a fairing that was improved as a result of Hughesí disclosures in a current or future ballistic missile program. Currently-deployed PRC ballistic missiles do not use fairings, and the PRCís future mobile land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles will probably not use a fairing. However, fairings are used by the PRC in launching military communications satellites and could be used for a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

In the opinion of the Select Committeeís independent expert, Dr. Alexander Flax, fairing improvements could also be of benefit to multiple independently-targeted reentry vehicle (MIRV) development, should the PRC decide to move in that direction. (See the Technical Afterword at the end of this chapter for additional details on the possible uses of fairings in intercontinental ballistic missiles.)

Hughes also provided the PRC with practical insight into diagnostic and failure analysis techniques for identifying and isolating the cause of a launch failure. Whether or not the structural improvements to the fairing suggested by Hughes are of immediate use to the PRCís missile programs, that information expanded the PRCís repertoire of available technical solutions to future problems that it may encounter in its space and missile programs.

Finally, the Select Committeeís independent expert has concluded that Hughes provided the PRC with the benefit of its engineering experience and know-how. As a result, PRC engineers better understand how to conduct a failure analysis and how to design and build more reliable fairings for rockets: "This will stand them in good stead in developing fairings (or shrouds) for ballistic missiles."

OPTUS B2, APSTAR 2 Launch Failures

PRC Gains Sensitive Knowledge from HUGHES Investigations

In 1992 and 1995, two Hughes Space and Communications International, Inc. (Hughes) satellites were launched from the Peopleís Republic of China on Long March 2E rockets and failed to achieve orbit. It has been alleged that, in the failure investigations that followed, Hughes provided technical information to the PRC that assisted the PRC in improving the Long March 2E. This portion of the report examines the events that underlie those allegations.

The 1992 failure involved the Optus B2 satellite, while the Apstar 2 satellite was destroyed in 1995.

For each event, provided below is a brief discussion of the export licenses for the satellite, and the restrictions that the licenses contained.1 A short discussion of the actual events of the failed launches follows, along with a detailed review of the failure investigations that Hughes conducted and of the U.S. Governmentís actions that related to those investigations.

Hughesí efforts during the investigations to provide technical information to the PRC for the purpose of assuring success in future launches are explained, as is the extent of the U.S. Governmentís knowledge and approval of Hughesí actions.

Finally, the actual improvements that were made to the Long March 2E by the PRC, and assessments of the potential damage to national security resulting from those improvements, are discussed.

The Prohibition Against Technology Transfer In Foreign Launches

International Traffic in Arms Regulations and the U.S. Munitions List

Section 38 of the Arms Export Control Act2 (AECA) authorizes the President to control the export and import of defense articles and services. The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (April 1, 1992 edition) contain the following definitions of defense articles and defense services:3

Section 120.7 Defense article.

Defense article means any item designated in Section 121.1. This term includes models, mockups, and other such items which reveal technical data directly relating to items designated in section 121.1

Section 120.9 Defense service.

Defense service means:

(a) The furnishing of assistance (including training) to

foreign persons whether in the United States or abroad in the design, engineering, development, production, processing,

manufacture, use, operation, overhaul, repair, maintenance, modification or reconstruction of defense articles, whether

in the United States or abroadÖ.

The U.S. Munitions List also enumerates articles that are controlled under the authority of the AECA in relevant part as follows:

Section 121.1 General. The United States Munitions List

(a) The following articles, services and related technical data are designated as defense articles and servicesÖ.

Category IV ñ Launch Vehicles [rockets]Ö.

(b) Launch vehicles and missile and anti-missile systems including but not limited to guided, tactical and strategic missiles, launchers, and systemsÖ.

(h) All specifically designed or modified components, parts, accessories, attachments and associated equipment for the

articles in this categoryÖ.

Department of Defense Monitoring Role

U.S. Air Force Instruction 10-1210, "Technology Safeguard Monitoring for Foreign Launches of US Commercial Satellites," identifies the Defense Technology Security Administration4 as having responsibility for the objectives of the technology safeguard program, which include:

to support the US non-proliferation policy for space and missile technology, . . . the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, and the US Munitions List.5

Defense Technology Security Administration monitors are responsible for "controlling the disclosure of technical information."6

The U. S. Air Force Technology Safeguard Monitor Handbook describes the role of the Defense Technology Security Administration monitor in debris recovery and accident investigations as follows: "If an anomaly (i.e., crash) occurs during the launch campaign you will need to prevent technology transfer throughout the debris recovery and accident investigation." 7 It continues:

after an anomaly occurs, the chance for technology transfer is the highest. As a US government technology safeguard monitor you will be overseeing the accident investigation discussions. Failure analysis discussions are sensitive because both sides want explanations and ask technical questions. The worst case for possible technology transfer occurs when both the spacecraft [satellite] and launch vehicle [rocket] are suspect; however, technology transfer is still a problem even if the anomaly was clearly caused by a launch vehicle [rocket] problem.

Optus B2

The Optus B2 Licenses

On May 2, 1991, the U.S. Department of State issued export license 483414, renewing license 384476, dated March 16, 1989. The 1991 license permitted the export of two Hughes Model HS-601 satellites (see illustration) to Australia for delivery in space to Aussat (later renamed Optus), Australiaís national communications satellite company.

The foreign intermediate consignee was Hughes, in care of China Great Wall Industry Corporation, Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Xichang, PRC.

The license was qualified by a letter dated May 2, 1991 from the Office of Defense Trade Controls of the State Department that sets forth limitations and provisos. In relevant part:


1. Hughes (which term includes all Hughes employees and agents) must conform strictly to the terms of Hughes own technology control plan with the China Great Wall Industry Corporation, as well as to the terms of the Satellite Technology Safeguards Agreement between the U.S. Government and the Peoplesí Republic of China (the Agreement) and the U.S. Governmentís measures for the implementation of that agreement.

* * *

5. Unless it obtains the prior separate approval of the Office

of Defense Trade Controls of the U.S. Department of State, Hughes must not provide any hardware or technical assistance whatsoever to its Chinese counterparts which might assist China to design, develop, or enhance the performance of any of its contemplated or existing Long March launch vehicles or missiles.

The Optus B2 Fails To Achieve Orbit

On December 21, 1992, the Hughes-manufactured Optus B2 satellite was launched from Xichang Launch Center in the PRC. The expected flight profile is shown below.11






The following description of the failure is excerpted from the Hughes report:

A normal performing launch vehicle [rocket] would have passed through the point of maximum dynamic pressure at 62 seconds after liftoff. The failure occurred approximately 48 seconds after liftoff. The launch vehicle [Long Mrach 2E rocket] was in the transonic buffeting period of its flight, at an altitude of approximately 7000 meters, when the failure occurred . . .8

Debris recovery began almost immediately and continued for about three weeks.

Officials from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) and Hughes began to investigate the cause of the crash. Hughes President and CEO Steven Dorfman appointed Vice President Donald Cromer to lead the Hughes investigation to determine the cause of the failure.9

Before joining Hughes, Cromer, had been an Air Force Lieutenant General, and had managed the Space Division of Air Force Systems Command. In that position, he was responsible for the design, development, and acquisition of Air Force space launch, command and control, and satellite systems.10

Cromerís principal assistant in directing the Optus B2 failure investigation was Dr. Stephen L. Cunningham, a senior-level Hughes executive and Ph.D. physicist who has worked in satellite programs at Hughes since 1977.11

Failure Investigation Teams

Hughes established several teams to conduct the Optus B2 launch failure investigation. The teams comprised 27 individuals, and their activities covered over 20 days of meetings with the PRC, including at least 15 days of meetings in the PRC.

A Failure Investigation Team was chartered to examine all aspects of the failure, including both the satellite and the rocket.

A second team, called the Spacecraft Focus Team, was to limit its focus to the satellite.

A third team, the Independent Review Team, was made up of experts from outside the Hughes organization. It was charged with reviewing the work of the other two Hughes teams and with making an independent assessment of the failure.

Finally, because Hughes recognized that the findings of its teams could be in conflict with those of the PRC accident investigators representing the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), it established the International Oversight Team made up of three members: one from Intelsat, one from the China Aerospace Corporation (CASC), and the Chairman of the Hughes Independent Review Team.

The Hughes teams were organized by functional specialties as illustrated in the following chart.12









The organization chart identifies Peter M. Herron, who was the Optus B2 Assistant Program Manager, as responsible for U.S. Government/PRC coordination for the failure investigation. In this role, Herron was the person responsible for obtaining U.S. Government approval for all information transfers from Hughes to the PRC during the failure investigation.13

Back  |  Forward


pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

PRC Acquisition of U.S. Technology
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

PRC Theft of U.S. Nuclear Warhead Design Information
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

High Performance Computers
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

PRC Missile and Space Forces
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Satellite Launches in the PRC: Hughes
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Satellite Launches in the PRC: Loral
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Launch Site Security in the PRC
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 5 | 6

Commercial Space Insurance
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

U.S. Export Policy Toward the PRC
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Manufacturing Processes
pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

pages 1 | 2 | 3

pages introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F

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