Russian Industry Official Says Proton Should Return to Flight in September

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SINGAPORE — International Launch Services is about to start its own review of the Russian government investigation into the May 16 failure of Russia’s Proton rocket and expects to be ready to announce a new commercial Proton launch manifest in July, ILS Vice President of sales, marketing and communications Dawn Harms said.

In remarks here June 16 and June 17 at the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum and the CommunicAsia conference, the top commercial launch companies — which in addition to ILS include Arianespace and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — discussed the recent schedule disruptions they have suffered from rocket issues and customers who were late in delivering their spacecraft.

Harms said it was too early to predict Proton’s commercial flight schedule this year before Reston, Virginia-based ILS has had a chance to review the Russian investigation, which pinpointed a third-stage component as responsible for the May failure.

The failure destroyed the large AM4R telecommunications satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space of Europe for the Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) and insured for about $217 million.

The just-completed Russian government failure review has not resulted in an immediate return-to-flight schedule of a vehicle that has been operational since the 1960s and in the past has rebounded quickly from failures.

Yuri Prokhorov, director-general of RSCC, whose fleet growth has been hampered by multiple Proton and in-orbit satellite failures in the past five years, said he remains confident that Proton will launch three RSCC satellites on three separate missions before the end of the year.

In a June 18 interview here, Prokhorov said Moscow-based RSCC has been told that Proton would return to flight in September with the launch of a Russian government Luch data-relay satellite. Launches for state-owned RSCC are also considered as part of Russia’s government launch program, even if RSCC is operated as a commercial company.

ILS recently has had to contend with the threat that U.S. government sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine might spread to forbidding satellites with U.S. parts from being launched aboard Russian vehicles from Russian launch bases.

Proton launches of satellites for SES of Luxembourg and Inmarsat of London were thrown into question in April because they did not receive their final shipping licenses. The licenses were eventually given and the launches would have proceeded but for the May failure.

Harms said ILS has secured launch licenses for all scheduled launches through 2016. She said the recent bottlenecks were not due to licenses ILS needed, but rather the final shipping authorizations that satellite owners need to secure.

Arianespace of Evry, France, has suffered a launch slowdown in what is still intended to be a record year of 12 launch campaigns because of several hiccups in the readiness of the Optus 10 telecommunications satellite, built for Australia’s Optus satellite operator.

Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said current indications are that Optus 10 would be repaired and returned to Europe’s Guiana Space Center launch base in South America around Aug. 15, providing more than enough time to prepare for an early September launch with the Measat 3b satellite owned by Measat of Malaysia.

Measat officials attending the conference here said their satellite has been ready for launch since December but has remained on the ground as Arianespace sought a compatible partner for the dual satellite launch aboard a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket.

Jacques Breton, Arianespace’s senior vice president for sales, said in the event that Optus 10 were to face further delays, Argentina’s Arsat telecommunications satellite could take its place alongside Measat 3b for the September launch.

Israel said Arianespace still expects to conduct 12 launches this year despite the Ariane 5 delays. That would mean four more Ariane 5 launches, three medium-lift Soyuz launches and one light Vega vehicle.

“It is a difficult target, but we still are aiming for it,” Israel said during a June 17 briefing.

SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, was delayed a month, to early June, because of a helium leak in its Falcon 9 rocket that scrubbed a launch of six machine-to-machine messaging satellites for Orbcomm of Rochelle Park, New Jersey.

In early June, Orbcomm discovered an issue on one of the satellites and the launch was delayed to June 20.

Barry Matsumori, SpaceX vice president for commercial sales and business development, said June 16 that SpaceX’s recent purchase of an additional launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, means the company will be able, starting in the second half of 2015, to work through its manifest more quickly.

The new pad will be for both the current Falcon 9 vehicle and the coming Falcon Heavy, set to debut sometime in 2015.

Matsumori said the helium leak issue has been fixed to the satisfaction of SpaceX, its insurers and its customer. SpaceX expects to conduct seven more missions in 2014 after Orbcomm, including commercial resupply flights to the international space station under contract to NASA.

 

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