Russia's Proton M launch vehicle returned to flight Sept. 30, nearly two months after a July 2 mishap sent the heavy-lift rocket and three Russian Glonass M satellites crashing to the ground at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Managed by commercial launch services provider International Launch Services (ILS) of Reston, Va., and majority shareholder Khrunichev Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, the Baikonur mission orbited the Astra 2E commercial telecom satellite for Luxembourg-based SES, the world's second-largest fleet operator by revenue. The mission marked the fifth for Proton this year, including the July 2 mishap managed by the Russian federation involving a Proton M/Block DM3 that failed after an engineer improperly installed three angular rate sensors on the rocket's first stage.
The crash grounded the Proton fleet for nearly two months and moved a planned July 20 launch of the 6,000-kg (13,000-lb.) Astra 2E spacecraft to Sept. 17. The date then slipped to Sept. 30 after a technical problem was discovered on the rocket's first stage. Kazakh government concerns over environmental safety also contributed to the delay, according to ILS, though Moscow is taking steps to avoid such complications in the future. Construction of the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in the far east of the country has been underway since 2011, in an effort to reduce Russia's reliance on Baikonur for geostationary transfer orbit missions. The site is scheduled to be fully operational by 2020 and launch nearly half of all Russian missions, including the new Angara family of rockets that is expected to succeed Proton and other Soviet-era launchers.