nternational Launch Services (ILS) expects to inaugurate a second commercial Proton-M launch pad at Russia’s BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan this summer to assure the company’s ability to conduct seven to eight missions in 2008 and in 2009, ILS President Frank McKenna said.
Now back in action with a successful Nov. 18 Proton-M flight following the September failure, ILS has been assured that the Russian government’s own demand for Proton rockets will not create logjams in the ILS manifest, McKenna said.
“We expect that Russian federal missions will account for three to five Proton launches in 2008 and about the same in 2009,” McKenna said in a Nov. 21 interview. “When you add in the seven to eight ILS commercial missions, Proton will be conducting on average one mission per month. Proton has demonstrated its capacity to perform 14 missions per year in the past, so we feel comfortable about meeting our manifest.”
McLean, Va.-based ILS currently has access to one Proton launch pad at the Baikonur complex. McKenna said installation by ILS of satellite processing facilities at a second pad would start in January and be completed by June.
Opening a second pad will permit ILS and its customers to reduce the amount of time between launches. While the pad will be new for ILS, it is used by the Russian government to launch Russian-made satellites, which in general do not require the same level of pampering required for U.S.- and European-built satellites.
Following the Nov. 18 launch of the Sirius-4 satellite owned by Sirius of Sweden, ILS has a backlog of 20 commercial telecommunications satellites.
As is the case with its principal competitors – of Europe and Sea Launch Co. of Long Beach, Calif. – ILS is under customer pressure to maintain maximum launch frequency to meet a spike in demand for satellite capacity. Demand
is expected to stay at current high levels at least until 2010.
The heavy backlog carried by all three commercial-launch companies is why the January Sea Launch failure and the September Proton-M failure created such unease in the market.
Sea Launch, which operates from a floating platform on the equator in the Pacific Ocean, has delivered its next payload, the Thuraya 3 mobile communications satellite, to the launch site and at press time was awaiting a return to calm subsurface ocean currents before conducting a launch.
Assuming that launch is successful, the company expects to conduct five missions in 2008, Sea Launch Chief Financial Officer KjellKarlsen said Nov. 21. In addition, Sea Launch plans to inaugurate its Land Launch vehicle – the same basic rocket, but operated from the BaikonurCosmodrome – in late March with the launch of Israel-based Spacecom’s Amos 3 satellite.
Two more Land Launch missions currently are scheduled for 2008, Karlsen said.
Arianespace of Evry, France, whose Ariane 5 rocket carries two telecommunications satellites at a time on most launches, expects to conduct its sixth and final launch this year Dec. 20. The company hopes for seven Ariane 5 launches in 2008.
ILS manages only purely commercial missions. This category does not include launches of Russian-built satellites ordered for Russia’s two domestic operators, Russian Satellite Communications Co. and Gascom, even though both companies sell satellite capacity in competition with ILS customers.
McKenna conceded that confusion over which Proton vehicles are being produced for which customers in recent weeks has resulted in one ILS customer – Telenor Satellite Broadcasting of Norway – being bumped to February. ILS and Telenor had expected the launch of Telenor’s Thor 2R telecommunications satellite to occur in December or January.
Frustrated Telenor officials said they were blindsided by the shift in dates, and that ILS did not immediately explain what happened.
Industry officials speculated that the Russian Satellite Communications Co.’s AM-33 satellite had been inserted onto Proton’s manifest at the last minute, with Telenor paying the consequences.
McKenna said ILS and Proton manufacturer Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center have apologized to Telenor for the confusion. He said the shift in Telenor’s launch date had nothing to do with giving non-ILS missions priority access to Proton, but instead was a result of the production sequence of Proton components at Khrunichev.
Russian satellites and Western satellites are not launched by
identical versions of the Proton
. “It all has to do with what configuration of the rocket is being produced,” McKenna said. “The number of conflicts that we have experienced with [Russian] federal missions is really marginal.”
The Russian government version of the Proton is expected to launch twice in December, and again in January, before ILS.
McKenna said ILS’s 2006 decision to stop competing to launch satellites at the lighter end of the commercial range – like Thor 2R – has been justified by the orders booked this year. The company has signed 15 launch contracts in 2007 for satellites whose average weight is 5,500 kilograms, he said.