Proton Upper Stage Misfire Puts Satellites in Wrong Orbits

After seven months of successes, the Russian launch industry has suffered another setback when a malfunctioning Breeze M upper stage sent a pair of Russian and Indonesian communications satellites into the wrong orbit. ITAR-TASS reports that “the upper stage engine unit worked for only seven seconds instead of planned 18 minutes and five seconds, and the satellites were not put into the planned orbits.”

The nation experienced a string of launch failures from late 2010 to Dec. 23, 2011. The ITAR-TASS story quotes former Roscosmos head Anatoly Perminov, who was fired over the failures, as saying the problem is worse now because of the space agency abolished the department in charge of overseeing launch vehicles and upper stages. This makes it more difficult to identify those responsible for failures.

A press release from ILS explains the latest mishap.

RESTON, Virg. (ILS PR) — On 7 August at 1:32 a.m. local time, a Proton Breeze M vehicle carrying the Express MD2 and Telkom 3 satellites launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Proton M launch vehicle performed nominally, however, the Orbital Unit (OU), comprised of the Breeze M upper stage and the two spacecraft, did not properly reach its transfer orbit and was placed into an off-nominal intermediate orbit. The Aerospace Defense and Roscosmos, are currently monitoring the OU and efforts are now underway to establish contact with the Express MD2 and Telkom 3 satellites.

An investigation into the anomaly began immediately. A Russian State Commission of inquiry has been established and is in the process of determining the reasons for the anomaly. ILS will release details when data become available. While this was a Russian Federal mission, ILS will form its own Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB) in parallel with the Russian State Commission. The FROB will review the commission’s final report and corrective action plan, in accordance with U.S. and Russian government export control regulations.

ILS remains committed to providing reliable, timely launch services for all its customers. To this end, ILS will work diligently with its partner Khrunichev to return Proton to flight as soon as possible.

Further updates will be provided on the investigation as they become available.