PARIS — Commercial launch-service provider International Launch Services on Sept. 11 said President Phil Slack is leaving the company after three years in his job and is being replaced by Kirk Pysher, who has been ILS’s mission assurance vice president.
Reston, Virginia-based ILS, which is owned by the Moscow-based Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, which builds the Russian Proton rocket that ILS sells, has suffered in recent years with repeated Proton quality-control issues.
Slack became the company’s chief executive in 2012 and has had to lead a company whose main product failed once per year since then despite repeated promises from Khrunichev that it had come to grips with the quality-assurance problem.
During this same period, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, entered the global commercial launch market with its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket and by 2014 was winning 50 percent of the commercial geostationary-orbit telecommunications satellites. Europe’s Arianespace consortium continued to take a 50 percent market share with its Ariane 5 rocket.
Despite the Falcon 9 failure in June, SpaceX has built a large backlog of commercial customers, as has Evry, France-based Arianespace, which despite being able to carry two telecommunications satellites at a time on Ariane 5 has said it has no room in its manifest until 2017.
Pysher’s task, which satellite operators say is within reach, is to win back customer loyalty and recapture the sizable market share that ILS enjoyed until SpaceX arrived on the scene.
Industry officials have said ILS, if Khrunichev allows it, could use the drop in the value of the Russian ruble to slash prices and more than match the unfavorable insurance rates that Proton customers must now pay because of the vehicle’s unstable recent record.
Khrunichev is also introducing the Angara rocket line, which ultimately will replace Proton.
Several large commercial satellite fleet operators have said they do not want to see SpaceX and Arianespace become the only viable options because of the threat to the industry if one of these vehicles is grounded for any length of time. These companies have suggested they will support ILS and Proton as they attempt to return to the market.