PARIS — The Russian Proton rocket’s return to flight following its spectacular July 2 failure has been rescheduled for Sept. 30 following a review of a first-stage valve issue and discussions between the Russian and Kazakh governments over launch safety issues, the company responsible for commercial Proton launches said Sept. 20.
International Launch Services (ILS) of Reston, Va., in a statement on behalf of itself and Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow, said the two-week delay of the launch, which will deploy the Astra 2E telecommunications satellite owned by SES of Luxembourg, will not affect the number of Proton missions planned between now and the end of the year.
Before the latest delay, ILS had said the Proton would conduct five missions between September and January. The first would be the Astra 2E launch, with Sirius XM Satellite Radio FM6 to follow about a month later. Two launches of Russian government satellites — which are not managed by ILS — would then occur in November and December, to be followed by a final commercial launch in December.
The presumed customer for 2013’s last commercial launch is London-based Inmarsat, which wants to get the first of three new-generation Ka-band Global Xpress satellites into orbit by the end of the year.
The ILS/Khrunichev statement suggests that discussions with Kazakhstan — Proton rockets are launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan — over rocket debris and safety, which are not new, are the main reason the return to flight was delayed for two weeks. The statement reads:
“The Astra 2E mission team is preparing for the launch on September 30. While ILS and Khrunichev did address a technical issue during this delay, the primary purpose of the delay was to accommodate a joint review by the Russian and Kazakhstan government to address environmental and safety concerns. We agree that undertaking this review is a prudent precautionary measure. While this review will have a short delay impact to the Astra 2E and Sirius FM6 missions, it will not impact the number of Proton missions we anticipated launching before year end 2013.”