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Wednesday, January 31, 2007 - Page updated at 12:01 AM

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Sea Launch rocket explodes

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- A Sea Launch rocket carrying a commercial communications satellite exploded Tuesday during launch from an oceangoing platform in the equatorial Pacific.

The Boeing-built NSS-8 satellite was intended for Netherlands-based SES New Skies.

"There was an explosion as we were lifting off," Sea Launch spokeswoman Paula Korn said from Long Beach, the home port for the company, which is owned by Boeing, RSC-Energia of Moscow, Kvaerner of Oslo, Norway, and SDO Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.

The platform is cleared of all personnel during launches, which are conducted remotely by a mission control team aboard a ship several miles away.

Korn did not know the condition of the self-propelled platform Odyssey, a converted oil platform.

The blast occurred at the scheduled 3:22 p.m. PST launch time. It was not known if the Zenit-3SL rocket actually lifted off the platform.

A Webcast of the launch was halted and replaced with the message: "Anomaly on NSS-8 mission. Broadcast concluded."

A failure review oversight board will be formed to determine what happened, Korn said. NSS-8 was to have been used for audio, video, data and Internet services for countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Asia. SES New Skies has five other satellite in orbit and another under construction.

Sea Launch company sends its vessels to the equator for each mission because the physics of Earth's rotation allows rockets to carry heavier payloads than they could from other locations.

The system has had 23 previous launches since its first in 1999.

During the third launch, on March 12, 2000, the rocket failed to gain enough speed to reach orbit and a communications satellite was lost. During a June 28, 2004, launch, an upper-stage engine shut down prematurely and left the payload in a lower-than-planned orbit, but the satellite was later raised to the right position.

The Zenit-3SL has three stages, all fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen. It is about 200 feet tall and 14 feet in diameter at its widest.

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