Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Proton Rocket Technical Issues Postpone ILS Launch of Astra 2G

Industry officials said the delay of the launch of Astra 2G is likely to push the launch into mid-December at the earliest. 

Credit: ILS photo

The planned Nov. 28 launch of a Russian Proton rocket carrying the commercial Astra 2G telecommunications satellite has been scrubbed following communications issues with the rocket’s Breeze-M upper stage, industry officials and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said Nov. 26.

The rocket will be removed from the launch pad, its upper stage taken off and the Astra 2G will be removed for safekeeping pending inspection of the Breeze-M. It was not immediately clear whether another Breeze-M was available at the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome launch complex in Kazakhstan.

Industry officials said the delay is likely to push the launch into mid-December at the earliest.

Roscosmos said a Russian State Commission decided to halt the launch following unspecified command-and-control anomalies on Breeze-M.

Yves Feltes, spokesman for Luxembourg-based SES, said the Astra 2G satellite, built by Airbus Defence and Space, is in good health and that the company would await the conclusions of the tests on Breeze-M before announcing a new launch date.

“We are in control of the situation with respect to Astra 2G,” Feltes said. “Astra 2G is safe and there are no issues with it. It will be removed from the rocket for additional checks on Breeze-M because the Breeze-M did not correctly respond to commands sent to it while the rocket was on the launch pad.”

The delay is the latest in a series of problems affecting Russia’s heavy-lift Proton rocket in recent years, which have pushed up the cost of insurance premiums and given its commercial competitor, Arianespace of Europe, room to raise its prices for heavier communications satellites.

International Launch Services of Reston, Virginia, which is owned by Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow and is in charge of selling commercial Proton launches, was not immediately available for comment on the launch scrub.

ILS in recent weeks has been battling widespread industry opinion that the Oct. 22 Proton launch of a Russian telecommunication satellite — a launch not handled by ILS but rather as part of Russia’s Federal space program — featured an underperformance by Breeze-M.

That satellite, the Express-AM6 owned by Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) of Moscow, will take longer than expected to reach its final operating orbit but is otherwise healthy.

SES and its insurers had raised questions about the Oct. 22 launch but ultimately were reassured that, whatever the issues were, they had been resolved, industry officials said. Plans for the Nov. 28 launch were permitted to proceed.

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