Komarov to Head Proton Failure Investigation, Second Try For ISS Reboost Tonight EDT

Komarov to Head Proton Failure Investigation, Second Try For ISS Reboost Tonight EDT

Russia is moving forward in its attempts to understand and remedy the two setbacks it suffered yesterday — the failure of Progress M-26M to boost the International Space Station’s (ISS’s) orbit and the failure of a Proton-M rocket that destroyed Mexico’s MexSat-1 communications satellite.

A second attempt at the ISS orbit reboost will be made tonight (May 17) beginning at 8:30 pm EDT (May 18, 03:30 Moscow Time) according to Russia’s official news agency TASS.  The Progress M-26M spacecraft that is attached to the ISS was supposed to raise the ISS orbit by 2.8 kilometers yesterday (Moscow Time, Friday evening EDT) by firing its engines for about 15 minutes.  The routine operation failed, however, because the engines did not ignite. 

Separately, Roscosmos head Igor Komarov will chair the Russian State Commission investigating the failure of a Proton-M rocket yesterday.  The Proton-M’s third-stage failed 497 seconds into the launch; it, the Briz-M upper stage and MexSat-1 fell back to Earth from an altitude of 161 kilometers.  Russian authorities searched the Baikal region of Russia for debris that might have survived, but most burned up during reentry.

Mexican telecommunications officials, the customer for this commercial launch brokered through International Launch Services (ILS), were philosophical about the loss of their satellite, which was fully insured.  They remain confident they will be able to provide the services promised by the MEXSAT system once the next satellite in the series (called Morelos-3 or MexSat-2) is launched later this year. That launch will be on an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral provided by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services.

The State Commission is charged with finding out what went wrong and making recommendations on who to hold responsible.  Komarov replaced Oleg Ostapenko as head of Roscosmos in January after Ostapenko was relieved of duties because of other failures, the latest in a series of Roscosmos directors and industry officials to lose their jobs.  Komarov is the fourth Roscosmos director since NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was sworn into office in 2009.

The Proton failure is another blow to Russia’s once-solid reputation for reliable launch vehicles, one more in a growing list of failures of several models of Russian rockets since December 2010 that has shaken confidence in the Russian space industry.

The January reorganization put Komarov in charge not only of the Roscosmos space agency, but of the Russian space industry, combining the two jobs into one.  He now must solve three anomalies at once — the April 28 Soyuz 2.1a launch failure that doomed the Progress M-27M cargo spacecraft and yesterday’s failures of the Progress M-26M ISS reboost and the Proton-M launch.

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