A Proton M/Block DM-03 rocket carrying three Russian Glonass navigation satellites veered wildly off course shortly after liftoff July 2, exploding into a fiery ball before crashing 2.5 km from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Prior to the failure, International Launch Services (ILS) and majority owner Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center had been aiming for 10 commercial Proton launches in 2013, following a string of launch mishaps over the past two-and-a-half years that have shaken customer confidence. But with a Russian government inquiry into the launch failure, and a subsequent ILS review of the findings, upcoming commercial missions are expected to be delayed, including the July launch of Astra 2E for commercial fleet operator SES of Luxembourg.
“There will be an impact to the next immediate commercial missions, as a [failure review oversight board] will be conducted prior to return to commercial flight,” ILS spokeswoman Karen Rose Monaghan said in a July 2 email. “At this time, ILS cannot provide an estimate of the delay of the near-term commercial missions.”
The failure, according to Russian space agency, was caused by an unidentified “emergency” with the rocket’s first stage, which powers both Russian federal and commercial Proton missions marketed by ILS of Reston, Va. No fatalities were reported.
In a statement issued July 2, ILS attempted to distance itself from the launch failure, asserting the Glonass mission was lofted atop a Proton in its older “Phase 1” configuration, which is built on a central core containing oxidizer and ringed by six fuel tanks equipped with either RD-275 or RD-276 engines.
ILS says its commercial missions utilize a more recent Proton configuration, known as Phase 3. However, this configuration comprises the same Phase 1 first-stage and RD-276 motors, albeit with some enhancements, including mass reductions, optimized propellant component depletion and lightweight onboard batteries for launch vehicle control and telemetry systems.