ILS Downplays Proton Failure’s Implications for Commercial Launches

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PARIS — The company that sells Russian Proton launch vehicles on the global commercial market said there appears to be no injuries to personnel at the Baikonur Cosmodrome following the July 2 failure of a Proton vehicle on a government mission and that the damage to spaceport infrastructure likewise appears minimal.

In a July 2 statement, Reston, Va.-based International Launch Services (ILS) also sought to distance the Proton Phase 3 vehicle it uses for commercial launches from the older-version rocket that failed just seconds after launch, destroying three Russian government Glonass navigation satellites.

ILS has conducted four commercial missions so far this year and had scheduled two more by September as it regained the market’s confidence following a December 2012 Proton anomaly of Proton’s Breeze-M upper stage. A large Russian telecommunications satellite was placed into a bad orbit but ultimately climbed into the correct position.

ILS said it will create its own failure-review oversight board to examine the findings of the Russian government-mandated commission that will investigate the cause of the July 2 failure.

ILS has long told customers that the Proton vehicle used for commercial flights differs from the rockets used for Russian government missions in more ways than the fact that the government launches use a Block DM upper stage built by RSC Energia of Kaliningrad, Russia, while the ILS Proton uses the Breeze-M stage built by ILS owner, and Proton prime contractor, Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow.

“The Glonass mission was launched using the Phase 1 Proton-M vehicle configuration that first flew in 2004,” ILS said in its statement. “This Phase 1 Proton was powered by the RD-276 engines on [the] first stage, which [were] introduced with the Phase 2 upgrades and were used on a small number of Phase 1 Protons. The hardware for this mission was previously stored, then used for this mission.

“For commercial missions, the standard Phase 3 vehicle configuration is utilized for every mission.”

In its mission planners’ guide, which is posted on the company’s website, the company nonetheless says that the basic Proton first-stage engine, which may or may not ultimately be identified as the cause of the July 2 failure, is the same for all Protons.

“Other than the changes to the propellant flow control valves, pressure feedback sensor and gas generator, the engines on the first stage of the Proton M [launch vehicle] are unchanged in their design and manufacture since 1965,” the mission planners’ guide says.

 

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