Proton Back in the Win Column with Satmex 8 Launch

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ROME — Russia’s Proton Breeze M heavy-lift rocket successfully returned to flight March 27 with the insertion of the Satmex 8 telecommunications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit, Satmex and commercial launch provider International Launch Services (ILS) announced.

The launch, which follows a December glitch in which the Proton’s upper-stage underperformed, confirms the ability of Proton and its principal manufacturer, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, to recover from mishaps much more quickly than what is common among Western launch vehicles.

But the quick-rebound capability has a flip side: Proton has had three mishaps in the past two years, including two outright failures, raising questions about quality-control procedures at Khrunichev and its Proton manufacturing team.

Reston, Va.-based ILS plans five more commercial launches by August as Proton returns to a near-monthly flight rate. Proton has demonstrated an ability to carry out 10 launch campaigns per year on a sustained basis, and on occasion has surpassed that rate.

ILS officials say that once Proton has a couple of successful missions completed, the world’s space insurance underwriters will lower the insurance premiums they now demand for Proton launches. Premiums have risen in the wake of the Proton failures, forcing ILS to make corresponding reductions to its launch prices to remain competitive.

In addition to returning the world’s second busiest commercial rocket to service — Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket remains the market leader — the successful launch throws a lifeline to Mexico’s Satmex commercial operator.

Satmex will place Satmex 8 into final geostationary orbit at 116.8 degrees west longitude, where it will replace the Satmex 5 satellite, which is running out of fuel and is scheduled to be retired from service in October. The risk to Satmex was that Satmex 5 customers would quit the company to lease bandwidth on competing satellites if Satmex 5 was retired before a replacement was on station.

The company has performed several in-depth analyses of Satmex 5’s fuel reserve, with each new analysis ending with a new extension of the satellite’s estimated retirement date. Nonbinding, but nonetheless widely followed, international guidelines require operators to keep enough fuel in their satellites to be able to raise their orbits by 200-300 kilometers at retirement to take them out of the heavily used geostationary belt some 36,000 kilometers over the equator.

Satmex 5 was launched in 1996 and carries 24 Ku- and 24 C-band transponders.

Much of Satmex’s existing business is from customers using Satmex 5. These broadcasters and other users will now be transferred to Satmex 8 following the new satellite’s in-orbit test period, likely to last about two weeks.

Satmex 8, built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., has 45 percent more capacity than Satmex 5 and will permit Satmex to expand its market in the fast-growing Latin American market in addition to serving existing Satmex 5 customers.

Space Systems/Loral said March 27 that Satmex 8 had successfully deployed its solar arrays and established communications with ground controllers and was proceeding smoothly through its early-orbit maneuvers.

Satmex 8 carries 40 Ku-band transponders and 24 C-band transponders. It weighed 5,474 kilograms at launch and required five burns of the Proton rocket’s Breeze-M upper stage — the source of Proton’s recent difficulties — before it was separated in orbit some nine hours and 13 minutes after liftoff from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

In addition to returning the world’s second busiest commercial rocket to service — Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket remains the market leader — the successful launch throws a lifeline to Mexico’s Satmex commercial operator.

Satmex will place Satmex 8 into final geostationary orbit at 116.8 degrees west longitude, where it will replace the Satmex 5 satellite, which is running out of fuel and is scheduled to be retired from service in October. The risk to Satmex was that Satmex 5 customers would quit the company to lease bandwidth on competing satellites if Satmex 5 was retired before a replacement was on station.

The company has performed several in-depth analyses of Satmex 5’s fuel reserve, with each new analysis ending with a new extension of the satellite’s estimated retirement date. Nonbinding, but nonetheless widely followed, international guidelines require operators to keep enough fuel in their satellites to be able to raise their orbits by 200-300 kilometers at retirement to take them out of the heavily used geostationary belt some 36,000 kilometers over the equator.

Satmex 5 was launched in 1996 and carries 24 Ku- and 24 C-band transponders.

Much of Satmex’s existing business is from customers using Satmex 5. These broadcasters and other users will now be transferred to Satmex 8 following the new satellite’s in-orbit test period, likely to last about two weeks.

Satmex 8, built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., has 45 percent more capacity than Satmex 5 and will permit Satmex to expand its market in the fast-growing Latin American market in addition to serving existing Satmex 5 customers.

Space Systems/Loral on March 27 said Satmex 8 had successfully deployed its solar arrays and established communications with ground controllers and was proceeding smoothly through its early-orbit maneuvers.

Satmex 8 carries 40 Ku-band transponders and 24 C-band transponders. It weighed 5,474 kilograms at launch and required five burns of the Proton rocket’s Breeze-M upper stage — the source of Proton’s recent difficulties — before it was separated in orbit some nine hours and 13 minutes after liftoff from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

 

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