Another Proton Launch Anomaly Added to the List

Another Proton Launch Anomaly Added to the List

As Russia continues to mull restructuring its space program in the wake of an unusual number of launch mishaps over the past two years, they now have one more to cope with.   International Launch Services (ILS) revealed that yesterday’s Proton launch of a Yamal communications satellite went awry and left the satellite in an improper orbit.  Another failure of the Proton’s Briz-M upper stage appears to be the culprit.

The Yamal 402 satellite, built by Thales Alenia for Russia’s OAO Gazprom Space Systems (part of Russia’s Gazprom energy giant) may yet reach its designated orbit according to a statement from Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, which builds both Proton and Briz-M.  In a statement issued yesterday, ILS and Khrunichev said that the fourth and final burn of the Briz-M upper stage engine ended four minutes early.  In a second statement today, Khrunichev said “two additional burns of the propulsion system will be required,” with the first scheduled for “Sunday-early Monday” local time in Russia.

A Russian state commission will investigate what went wrong.  Even if the satellite eventually reaches its intended orbit, the mishap is another complication in restoring confidence in Russian launch vehicles.   The run of bad luck began exactly two years ago in December 2010.

  • December 2010, Proton-Block DM, upper stage failure, three Russian GLONASS navigation satellites lost
  • February 2011, GEO-IK2, Rokot-Briz, upper stage failure, Russian geodetic satellite stranded in transfer orbit
  • August 2011, Ekspress AM-4, Proton-Briz, upper stage failure, Russian communications satellite stranded in transfer orbit
  • August 2011, Progress M-12M, Soyuz U-Fregat, third stage failure due to clogged fuel line, Russian cargo spacecraft for International Space Station lost
  • November 2011, Phobos-Grunt, Zenit-Fregat, upper stage failure, Russian Mars-bound spacecraft stranded in Earth orbit
  • December 2011, Soyuz 2.1a, third stage failure, Russian Meridian military communication satellite lost
  • August 2012, Proton-Briz, upper stage failure, Russian Ekspress-MD2 and Indonesian Telkom-3 communications satellites stranded in transfer orbit
  • December 2012, Proton-Briz, upper stage failure, Russian Yamal 402 communications satellite delivered to wrong orbit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are vowing to make changes to Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, and its space industry.    The head of Khrunichev resigned in August one day after Medvedev met with Cabinet and space industry officials.   More recently, the head of the company that builds the GLONASS navigation satellites — a particular interest of President Putin — left his job after investigators determined that the company embezzled about $200 million of federal funding for the navigation satellite system.   More changes are expected


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