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., the Baikonur mission sent the Astra 2E commercial communications satellite to geostationary transfer orbit for Luxembourg-based SES, the world’s second-largest fleet operator by revenue.
In a statement issued Sept. 30, ILS said spacecraft separation occurred nine hours and 12 min. after liftoff, with the first three stages of the vehicle using a standard ascent profile to place the orbital unit — including the Breeze M upper stage andAstrium-built Astra 2E spacecraft — into a suborbital trajectory. The Breeze M then performed a series of mission maneuvers to push the upper stage and its 6,000-kg (13,000-lb.) satellite into a circular parking orbit, then into an intermediate orbit, followed by a transfer orbit, and finally into GTO.
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 Astra 2E to Sept. 17. The launch date slipped again, to Sept. 30, when a technical problem was discovered on the rocket’s first stage and, separately, due to concerns on the part of the Kazakhstan government over environmental safety issues associated with Russian rocket launches from Baikonur.
In 2011 Moscow broke ground on a new launch site, known as Vostochny Cosmodrome, in the far east of the country, in an effort to reduce Russia’s reliance on Baikonur for launching GTO missions. The site is expected to become operational in 2015, and by 2020 will launch close to half of all Russian government and commercial missions, including the new Angara family of rockets that are expected to succeed Proton and other Soviet-era launchers.
“We thank the individual teams at SES, Astrium, Khrunichev and ILS for their commitment to launch success. Most of all we thank SES for their trust in ILS and Khrunichev to support their plans for expansion,” said ILS President Phil Slack, referring to ILS majority shareholder Khrunichev Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, which manufactures the Proton M and Breeze M upper stage, and which is developing the new Angara line of rockets.