Proton Rocket Back in Service with Successful ILS Launch of Astra 2E Satellite
BEIJING — Russia’s Proton rocket successfully returned to flight Sept. 30 with the launch of a commercial telecommunications satellite less than three months after its spectacular failure following an improperly installed flight-trajectory sensor.
Operating from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Proton-Breeze-M vehicle placed the 6,000-kilogram Astra 2E telecommunications satellite into the designated transfer orbit nine hours and 12 minutes after liftoff, according to Proton commercial operator( ) of Reston, Va., and satellite owner of Luxembourg.
ILS has said it expects to conduct two more commercial launches this year, with the Russian government adding two additional flights to the manifest. If these launches occur, the Proton rocket will have recovered from the July failure to maintain its average of about 10 liftoffs per calendar year.
ILS has said it expects to conduct between five and seven commercial launches in 2014.
The Sept. 30 launch is a statement of the global insurance market’s continued faith in the Proton rocket’s basic quality. Several years ago, it would have been highly unusual for the vehicle to return so quickly from a failure to proceed directly with an insured commercial liftoff without first conducting a Russian government mission.
In this case, the July failure’s obvious cause — the botched installation of an angular-rate sensor on the rocket that caused it to follow an unstable, hair-raising trajectory before crashing several kilometers from the launch pad — gave insurers confidence that there was no reason to insist on a government launch first.
The launch had been delayed from mid-September in part because Kazakhstan had withheld the necessary launch licenses as Kazakh and Russian authorities discussed compensation for environmental damage and compensation following Proton failures.
The Astra 2E satellite, built by Astrium Satellites of Europe, carries 60 Ku-band transponders, including 12 transponders that SES will use to find new customers beyond those whose existing services are being transferred to Astra 2E from older SES spacecraft.
Astra 2E also carries four Ka-band transponders for broadband applications.