PARIS & MOSCOW —
ussia’s Proton heavy-lift rocket is expected to return to flight Oct. 25 – just seven weeks after its Sept. 6 failure – following a Russian government review that identified a damaged cable as the cause of the mishap
, according to Russian government and industry officials.
The Oct. 25 flight will carry three Russian Glonass-M navigation satellites and is expected to be followed by a mid-November launch of the Sirius-4 telecommunications satellite owned by SES Sirius of Sweden, a subsidiary of SES of Luxembourg.
International Launch Services (ILS), the McLean, Va.-based company that markets commercial Proton launches, would according to this schedule be able to launch Telenor Satellite Broadcasting’s Thor 2R telecommunications satellite in late December or January – assuming it can coordinate its launch manifest with
the Russian government’s use of the Proton.
While they use the same basic vehicle, ILS and the Russian government operate in different legal and financial worlds whose timetables do not completely overlap.
It was an ILS Proton-M launch of the JSCAT-11 telecommunications satellite owned by JSAT Corp. of Tokyo that failed in September. JSCAT-11 was insured for $185 million.
To participate in the Proton failure review, ILS needed the approval of the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which determines what technological information can be transferred from U.S. companies to non-U.S. companies – even in cases in which the hardware under analysis is Russian.
review concluded that the accident
was caused by a defective cable that prevented the firing of explosive bolts that permit Proton’s first stage from separating from the second stage once the first-stage engine has completed its mission.
The Proton vehicle and the JCSAT-11 crashed onto the Kazakh steppe down-range from the Russian-run BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan. More than 100 satellite and rocket pieces were subsequently recovered, and analysis of this hardware helped speed the failure review and permit such a quick return to flight, said Wendy Mihalic, I
LS vice president for sales.
“They recovered a lot of the hardware on the ground, making the failure review a very data-rich experience,” Mihalic said Oct. 12.
own Failure Review Oversight Board, which was briefed on the Russian state investigation’s findings, was expected to return to Washington in time to begin briefing U.S. government officials the week of Oct. 15. Mihalic said the ILS team will talk with DISA about what information can be relayed to insurance underwriters – both those who are paying the JCSAT-11 claim and those who are insuring ILS’s upcoming commercial launches.
Mihalic said ILS expected to be able to brief the insurers starting the week of Oct. 22.
VasilySychev, deputy director of Proton’s prime contractor, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, told an Oct. 12 press briefing in Moscow that the Glonass-M launch was set for Oct. 25 and that “nothing will hinder this launch.”
Alexander Bobrenev, a Khrunichev spokesman, said Oct. 12 that while the Oct. 25 return to flight appeared firm, Kazakh government authorities ultimately will need to give formal approval to
Russian and Kazakh negotiators had yet to agree on how much Russia would pay in compensation to Kazakhstan for the environmental damage caused by the Proton crash, but these negotiations would not delay the Glonass launch, Russian officials said.
There were no reports of casualties or substantial property loss, but environmental damage from rocket fuel has long been an issue between Kazakhstan and Russia. The BaikonurCosmodrome is one of the few spaceports whose geographic location requires that rockets make a long flight over land, regardless of the orbit of the satellite payload.
Anatoly Perminov, director-general of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, told an Oct. 11 press briefing in Moscow that all failure-related issues have been resolved with Kazakhstan except for the level of compensation. He said Russia will seek to negotiate a payment lower than the 7.32 billion Kazakh tenge ($61.7
million) that Kazakh authorities have requested.
The Proton’s grounding
following the September failure came at a particularly delicate time for the global commercial-satellite industry, which is in a boom period where
launcher availability has become an issue. The Proton mishap exacerbated a tight-market situation that existed following the
January 2007 failure of the Sea Launch vehicle. The Proton and Sea Launch rockets,
the European Ariane 5, are the
most active vehicles in the commercial arena.
It remained unclear how ILS and the Russian government would sort out their separate Proton launch schedules in the coming months. ILS’s manifest is full or nearly so for the next two years. Mihalic said that before the Sept. 6 failure, the Russian government had scheduled three launches – the Glonass flight and two others – to take place before the end of the year.