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Proton rocket with Inmarsat-5 F2 satellite on the launch pad on Jan. 29, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Proton-M with Ekspress-AM7 shortly before its liftoff on March 19, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Proton lifts off with Ekspress-AM7 on March 19. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Proton lifts off with Inmarsat-5 F3 satellite on Aug. 28, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Turksat-4B shortly before liftoff on Oct. 16, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
|Proton's very busy 2015
Even before the Proton rocket completed its back-loaded launch campaign in December 2014, the launch manifest for the following year called the Russian workhorse space booster to fly nearly monthly missions.
As of the first week of December 2014, the Proton was yet to fly two missions before the end of the year, while 11 launches had already been scheduled for 2015 to carry payloads for the Russian civilian space agency, Roskosmos, the Russian Ministry of Defense and for several foreign customers.
The launch of the Inmarsat-5 F2 satellite was to open Proton operations on January 30, followed by the launch of a classified communications satellite, known as Garpun (Harpoon), for the Russian Ministry of Defense on February 20, 2015.
As of beginning of December 2014, the Proton's launch manifest in 2015 looked as following:
*Later postponed until February 1
During the first Russian orbital launch attempt of 2015, the 402nd Proton rocket successfully delivered the Inmarsat-5 F2 communications satellite for the London-based Inmarsat plc commercial satellite operator on February 1.
Delays with the delivery of the Garpun military satellite from its manufacturer ISS Reshetnev to Baikonur Cosmodrome required to scrub the Proton mission scheduled to deliver this classified spacecraft into a geostationary orbit on February 20. By February 17, the new launch date for the Garpun mission has not been set yet. By that time, the Proton flight manifest still included 10 upcoming missions during 2015 with a following schedule:
The liftoff of the Proton-M rocket with Ekspress-AM7 satellite took place as scheduled on March 19, 2015, at 01:05:00 Moscow Time (22:05 GMT, 6:05 p.m. EDT on March 18) from Pad No. 39 at Site 200 in Baikonur. Following five maneuvers of the Briz-M stage, the Ekspress-A7 satellite was released into its planned orbit nine hours 13 minutes after the launch.
The third Proton mission of 2015 carried the MexSat-1 communications satellite for the Mexican government on May 16, 2015. However the launch failed during the operation of the third stage.
At the time of the accident, the Proton launch manifest looked as following:
However after the loss of MexSat-1, international customers were unlikely to clear their payloads for launch on Proton until the rocket would demonstrate its performance in one or even two successful flights, following a thorough investigation of the latest failure. As a result, the Russian government would have to find its own "return-to-flight" payloads for such missions.
Around a week after the MexSat-1 accident, planners tentatively considered launching the Garpun military satellite in mid-July 2015, followed by the civilian Ekspress-AM8 satellite at the end of July or beginning of August 2015. Obviously, these launch dates would be contingent on the outcome of the MexSat-1 launch failure investigation.
Russia's flagship Proton rocket enters one of the busiest and historically significant periods in its history in years. Last Friday, the Failure Review Oversight Board, FROB, completed its part of the investigation into the failure of the Proton rocket with the MexSat-1 satellite on May 16. During the past two weeks, the group of experts from the International Launch Services, ILS, which markets Proton rockets, conducted a series of meetings in Moscow with representatives from GKNPTs Khrunichev, the Proton developer, and other contractors.
According to industry sources, some of the final hurdles for the Proton's return to flight should be cleared during a series of briefings with insurance officials scheduled on July 28 and July 29 in Paris. If everything goes as expected, before the end of the week, ILS and Inmarsat will declare the investigation into the MexSat-1 failure completed and officially announce the launch date for the Inmarsat-5 F3 mission.
As of the middle of July, the next launch of the Proton rocket with the Inmarsat-5 F3 satellite was expected in the last week of August or the first week of September. Teams at GKNPTs Khrunichev and their contractors worked at the Proton processing facility in Baikonur Cosmodrome to prepare the rocket for liftoff as early as August 23. That date was contingent on the July 26 delivery to the launch site of the Proton's third stage, whose engines were refurbished in the wake of the MexSat-1 failure. However, as of July 24, it looked like the Inmarsat satellite could not be prepared in time to meet the August 23 launch date. At the time, Boeing, which had developed the Inmarsat-5 series, was still preparing its team for a trip to Baikonur to join the launch campaign. As a result, the launch date is currently projected between August 28 and August 30. The new timeline takes into account the scheduled launch of the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft to the International Space Station, ISS, currently set for September 2. Although Soyuz and Proton rockets are launched from different facilities, they still share resources in Baikonur, such as ground stations.
In the meantime, additional pressure on the Proton team comes from the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, which wants to launch the Ekspress-AM8 communications satellite as early as September 14 -- the second launch after Proton's return to flight. Unlike the majority of Proton-M rockets which currently feature the Briz-M upper stage, the vehicle for the Ekspress AM-8 mission will be equipped with a newly upgraded Block DM-03 upper stage. The same space tug will be needed for the high-priority mission to replenish Russia's Global Navigation System, GLONASS, and the agency wants a proof as soon as possible that the stage works. In the runup to the first attempt to employ Block DM-03 for the launch of the GLONASS satellites, a fueling team working with outdated specifications loaded the wrong amount of propellant into the modified tanks of the new stage, which led to the Proton's launch failure at the end of 2010.
All this means that specialists currently involved in Proton operations have to prepare two rockets with two different upper stages and payloads almost in parallel, while also applying the lessons from the latest failure.
As of July, the Proton launch manifest looked as following:
In addition to a possible "domino effect" of delays in a busy flight schedule, Proton missions at the back end of the 2015 launch manifest are subject to changes to accommodate the ExoMars-2016 mission slated for launch on Proton on January 7, 2016. Because launch windows for missions to the Red Planet come and go roughly once every two years, the ExoMars has an absolute priority in the schedule over all other payloads. At the same time, the return to flight and the subsequent successful missions of the Proton rocket in the second half of 2015 should give confidence to the ExoMars project officials in the successful performance of Russia's workhorse rocket during the historic mission.
Editor: Alain Chabot, Last edit: July 27, 2015
The Proton-M/Briz-M launch vehicle lifted off as scheduled on Aug 28, 2015, at 14:44:00 Moscow Time (7:44 a.m. Eastern Time) from Pad 39 at Site 200 in Baikonur Cosmodrome. Around 15.5 hours later, Briz-M stage successfully delivered the Inmarsat-5 F3 satellite, the third spacecraft in a series developed by Boeing company for the London-based Inmarsat company.
Proton-M/Block DM-03 No. 5L rocket lifted off from Pad No. 24 at Site 81 in Baikonur on Sept. 14, 2015, at 22:00 Moscow Time, carrying Ekspress-AM8 satellite. Six hours 37 minutes later, Block DM-03 upper stage successfully released its payload into the geostationary orbit, finally demonstrating its capability after two failed launches in 2010 and 2013. With the successful launch of Ekspress-AM8, the new variant of the veteran Block-D stage was finally certified for the high-profile launches replenishing Russia's GLONASS navigation constellation. Even more importantly, the same space tug will also be adapted for the new-generation Angara-5 rocket.
Schiaparelli, also known as the ExoMars Entry, descent and landing Demonstrator Module, EDM, being craned into position for mating with the Trace Gas Orbiter, TGO, in the Cannes facility of Thales Alenia Space, France, on 11 April 2015.
On September 18, the European Space Agency, ESA, confirmed that the latest technical problems with the ExoMars-2016 project would require to postpone the delivery of the dual orbiter-lander spacecraft to Baikonur Cosmodrome from Oct. 21, 2015, to January 2016. As a result, the Proton rocket launch carrying ExoMars-2016 would slip from its primary window in January to a backup opportunity extending from March 14 to March 25, 2016. In turn, the ExoMars delay freed Proton launch facilities and personnel for at least one extra mission, which would follow ExoMars if it had not been postponed.
As of September, two Proton's commercial passengers -- Eutelsat and Intelsat -- had their payloads ready to go: Eutelsat-9B and Intelsat-31 communications satellites. Only one could be scheduled before the delivery of the Trace Gas Orbiter, TGO, and Schiaparelli lander to Baikonur, which would occupy key Proton's processing facilities, thus precluding parallel operations with other spacecraft.
By September 21, the launch of Eutelsat-9B was expected to precede ExoMars mission in January 2016, while the Intelsat-31 would wait until April, followed by the launch of the Echostar-21 satellite in May. Still, the final choice between the two payloads was not expected until the end of the week and it would be based on the lowest risk among the two payloads.
Proton flight manifest as of September 2015:
On December 13, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the spacecraft launched on the Proton rocket at 03:19 Moscow Time had been taken under control of the Titov Chief Test Center of the Russian Air and Space Forces, which would be responsible for the mission. The satellite received an official designation Kosmos-2513, the Ministry of Defense said.
Concluding Russia's orbital launch attempts of 2015, a Proton rocket successfully launched Russia's latest communications satellite into geostationary orbit. The liftoff of the Ekspress-AMU1 satellite took place in early hours of Dec. 25, 2015, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, after a 24-hour delay due to weather.
Completed Proton launches in 2015:
Read (and see) much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:
Page author: Anatoly Zak
Last update: January 30, 2016
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