Tag Archives: ILS

Russia gets two contracts for Proton

The competition heats up: Russia has signed two new contracts using its newly announced Proton-Medium rocket configuration.

Both contracts are for the same launch. The primary payload will be a Intelsat communications satellite. The secondary payload will be Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), which is actually more significant and somewhat ground-breaking.

The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the propulsion and attitude control functions. Satellites have an average of 15 years of life on orbit, before they need to be replaced. The vehicle itself has a 15-year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and undockings during its life span. “Rather than launching new satellites, operators can extend the life of healthy in-orbit satellites, providing enhanced flexibility through Orbital ATK’s scalable and cost-efficient capabilities,” noted Our simple approach minimizes risk, enhances mission assurance, and enables our customers to realize the maximum value of their in-orbit satellite assets.”

The launch of MEV-1 will involve in-orbit testing and a demonstration to be performed with an Intelsat satellite. MEV-1 will then relocate to the Intelsat satellite scheduled for the mission extension service, which is planned for a five-year period. Intelsat will also have the option to service multiple satellites using the same MEV.

If MEV-1 proves successful, Orbital ATK will have built, launched, and made money from the first robot repair satellite. While at first glance this success suggests that satellite companies will need to launch fewer satellites, thus reducing the market demand for rockets, what it will really do is make the orbiting satellite more useful and profitable, thus encouraging new players to enter the market. The demand for satellites will increase, thus increasing the demand for rockets.

Ain’t freedom and private enterprise grand?

Proton launch delayed 24 hours

Due to an electrical ground system issue, Russia has delayed by one day the launch of an upgraded Proton rocket, from today to tomorrow.

I suspect that the recent tough response by Putin’s government to the one day delay of the first launch at Vostochny, including the firing of one manager, has helped focus the minds in Kazakhstan.

On a side note, below the fold is a nice short video showing this Proton rocket’s journey to the launchpad earlier this week. Hat tip to t-dub for sending me the link. It provides some very nice views of the rocket, which is definitely a marvel of big engineering.
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Another Falcon Heavy customer switches to different rocket

The competition heats up: Afraid of more delays in SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, Inmarsat has booked a Russian Proton rocket for a 2017 commercial satellite launch.

London-based Inmarsat is the second Falcon Heavy commercial customer to have sought a Plan B given the continued uncertainties in the launch schedule of Falcon Heavy, whose inaugural flight has been repeatedly delayed. Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat Inc. in February moved its ViaSat-2 consumer broadband satellite from the Falcon Heavy to Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket for an April 2017 launch, securing what may be launch-service provider Arianespace’s last 2017 slot for a heavy satellite.

Russian Proton rocket successfully launches commercial satellite

The competition heats up: The Russians successfully put a European commercial communications satellite into orbit today their Proton rocket.

It was the sixth successful Proton launch since their May failure. The key quote from the article however was this:

ILS owner Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow has said it would give ILS leeway to reduce prices to work its way back into the regular commercial-launch rotation alongside SpaceX and Europe’s Arianespace. The decline of the Russian ruble against the U.S. dollar has made that task easier as most commercial launch contracts are priced in dollars.

In other words they are going to cut prices to compete, and the falling ruble has given them more leeway to do it.

Eutelsat signs a multi-launch Proton rocket deal

The competition heats up: Satellite maker Eutelsat has signed a seven year multi-launch deal with International Launch Services (ILS) using the Proton rocket.

The ILS press release does not state how many launches this contract covers, which makes me suspect that ILS was forced due to competition with SpaceX to give Eutelsat a great deal of flexibility about which launcher it uses with each satellite down the road. The ILS release even admits this. ““With their selection of ILS Proton for this Multi-Launch Agreement Eutelsat has made a clear statement that flexibility and schedule assurance are key discriminators.”

This is still a good thing for the Russians, as it insures them a share in the launch market for almost the next decade.

ILS to slash prices for Proton

The competition heats up: The new head of ILS, the company that handles the commercial launches of Russia’s Proton, has announced that they are going to lower their prices.

According to the article the new price will be about $65 million, which is comparable to what I think SpaceX is charging for its Falcon 9.

New launch contracts for SpaceX and ILS

The competition heats up: Launch competitors SpaceX and ILS announced new contracts today for launching commercial satellites into orbit.

SpaceX announced two new contracts, one from the Spanish communications company Hispasat, who signed them up to use a Falcon 9, and a second from the Saudia Arabian communications company Arabsat for a Falcon Heavy launch.

ILS meanwhile got its own contract from Hispasat to use a Proton to put another Hispasat communcations satellite into orbit.

The two Hispasat contracts show the advantages of competition for satellite makers. They now have more than one company to choose from, and are spreading their business around to give them options while encouraging these companies to compete against each other by lowering prices.

A new Russian heavy lift rocket amid Russian budget woes

The competition heats up: Even as Russia today successfully placed a commercial satellite in orbit on the 400th successful Proton rocket launch, Russian sources indicate that — despite budget woes fueled by the drop in oil prices — Russia is moving ahead with the design and construction of a heavy-lift rocket capable of competing with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).

From the last link above:

By 2013, Roskosmos drafted a very preliminary roadmap toward the development of heavy and super-heavy launch vehicles. Not surprisingly, it matched closely the strategy that NASA had followed since 2011 within the Space Launch System, SLS, project.

…As the American SLS project, Russian super-heavy launcher plans envisioned building a rocket with a payload of 80-85 tons in the first phase of the program. A pair of such rockets would be enough to mount a lunar expedition. In the second phase of development, the rocket would be upgraded to carry unprecedented 130-180 tons of payload in order to support, permanent lunar bases, missions to asteroids and expeditions to Mars.

As much as I remain a skeptic of SLS, it has apparently struck so much competitive fear in the Russian leadership that they are now willing to try to copy it. Much like the 1980s, when the Soviet rulers bankrupted their nation trying to duplicate American projects like the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Space Shuttle, Putin is now repeating that error all over again. His country has experienced almost a quarter-century of strong economic growth since the fall of communism because, during that time, they focused on capitalism, private enterprise, freedom, and a bottom-up economic structure. Now, they are beginning to abandon that approach and return to the top-down, centralized system of government planning.

As it did in previous century, it will bankrupt them again in this century. Though the Russian government is denying the reports that they are going to trim their space budget, their government’s budget is going to suffer from the drop in the price of oil. Something will have to give.

Update: This review of a book about modern Russia is definitely pertinent: The Land of Magical Thinking: Inside Putin’s Russia

Proton launch postponed

The heat of competition: Russian engineers have scrubbed Friday’s commercial Proton launch due to a gyro issue with the rocket’s Briz upper stage.

They have begun to destack the rocket to get at the upper stage in order to repair the problem, with the new launch date expected to be no earlier than mid-December.

The problem once again raises questions about the quality control generally within the Russian aerospace industry and specifically in the companies that build Proton and its upper stage. At the same time, it is a good thing they spotted the problem before launch, allowing them to correct it. That is what a company with good quality control does.

U.S./Russian owned launch company ILS cuts workforce by 25%

The competition heats up: Business loses because of its recent Proton launch failures, combined with strong market competition from SpaceX, today forced International Launch Services (ILS) to cut its work force by 25%.

The company is anticipating a launch rate drop from an average of 7 to 8 missions a year down to 3 to 4. The article also noted one more additional detail that will affect the future market value of Proton:

So far in 2014, the commercial satellites ordered have been mainly at the lighter end of the market for geostationary-orbiting telecommunications spacecraft. This follows a couple of years in which heavier satellites dominated.

Commercial Proton rockets are typically used to launch heavier satellites one at a time. The market’s move to lighter spacecraft has benefited Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of Hawthorne, California, whose Falcon 9 rocket has accumulated commercial orders; and also benefited Arianespace, whose Ariane 5 heavy-lift vehicle’s lower position is reserved for smaller satellites.

The weight of commercial satellites is almost certainly going to continue to drop in the coming years as technology improves and satellite companies work to reduce the cost to launch. In that climate, the Proton’s ability to put big commercial payloads into orbit will become a liability, not an asset. Ariane 5 has the same problem, in that it still needs a big payload for its upper position in order to make a launch cost effective.

Both Falcon 9, with its very low launch costs, and Russia’s new Angara rocket, with its modular design to handle all kinds of payload sizes, are better suited to this new competitive market.

The Russian company that owns the Proton rocket is considering a redesign that would allow them to launch two satellites on one rocket.

The competition heats up: The Russian company that owns the Proton rocket is considering a redesign that would allow them to launch two satellites on one rocket.

Launching two or more satellites during a single launch is not ground-breaking technology, but the Russian have never done it with their Proton. If they make this change, it will allow them to reduce the cost for a commercial launch considerably, thus making them more competitive against companies like SpaceX.

That they have decided to consider this now, after almost three decades of commercial operation since the fall of the Soviet Union, is more proof that the low prices of SpaceX are forcing innovation and an effort to lower costs across the entire launch market.

Update: My statement above about Proton never launching more than one satellite is wrong. They have done it numerous times, something I am very aware of but for some reason completely forgot when I was writing this post. (The jet lag from the trip to Israel must still be affecting my brain.) In fact, they have just rolled to the launchpad a Proton with two communications satellites on board, a fact that makes the story at the first link above very puzzling.

International Launch Services ((ILS) has successfully launched its Russian Proton rocket to put another commercial communications satellite into orbit.

Tbe competition heats up: International Launch Services ((ILS) has successfully launched its Russian Proton rocket to put another commercial communications satellite into orbit.

This launch solidifies the recovery of the Proton rocket since the disastrous July launch. With the Russian government forcing a consolidation of all Russian aerospace companies into one government owned cooperation, however, it is unclear what will happen to ILS and Khrunichev (the Russian company that makes the Proton).

A Proton rocket successfully launched a Russian military satellite today.

The competition heats up: A Proton rocket successfully launched a Russian military satellite today.

This is Proton’s the third successful launch in a row since July’s spectacular launch crash. It seems they have straightened out their quality control problems, for the moment.

Russian owned International Launch Services today successfully used its Proton rocket to launch a commercial satellite.

The competition heats up: Russian owned International Launch Services (ILS) today successfully used its Proton rocket to launch a commercial satellite.

This is the second successfully Proton launch since July’s spectacular failure. The company seems to be recovering, which of course means that the competition for launch services will get hotter in 2014.

Which is excellent news. The competition will keep these companies on their toes, and force them to innovate in order to stay in business. In the long run this will lower the cost to orbit and make space more accessible to everyone.

Russia’s Proton rocket returned to flight today with a successful launch of a commercial satellite.

Russia’s Proton rocket returned to flight today with a successful launch of a commercial satellite.

This launch only occurred about two hours ago and all appears at this time to be going well. For the Russians this is a crucial flight, as they need to demonstrate that they are cleaning up their quality control problems following the spectacular Proton launch failure in July in order to compete in the increasingly competitive launch market.

The Russians have now rescheduled for September 30 the next Proton rocket launch.

The competition heats up: The Russians have now rescheduled for September 30 the next Proton rocket launch.

The Russian Proton rocket’s return to flight following its spectacular July 2 failure has been rescheduled for Sept. 30 following a review of a first-stage valve issue and discussions between the Russian and Kazakh governments over launch safety issues.

They claim the main reason for the delay was the issues of clean-up following the July 2 launch crash, but that “first-stage valve issue” intrigues me. They have been very closed-mouth about it, yet it very clearly existed.

The Russians have delayed the next Proton launch, scheduled for September 17, for at least a week.

The Russians have delayed the next Proton launch, scheduled for September 17, for at least a week.

They have not described the problem in any article I can find, but considering their recent failures it doesn’t surprise me if they are being extra careful now.

The Russians have now fired three executives as a result of their investigation into last month’s Proton launch disaster.

The Russians have now fired three executives as a result of their investigation into last month’s Proton launch disaster.

This is in conjunction with hiring an American to take over quality control.

Russia has concluded its investigation into last month’s Proton launch failure and now says its next launch will be on September 15.

Russia has concluded its investigation into last month’s Proton launch failure and now says its next launch will be on September 15.

While the investigation pinpointed the problem — the installation of sensors upside down — none of the news reports about this investigation have mentioned what any corrective actions the Russians are taking. Meanwhile, at least one unnamed Russian engineer is questioning the schedule and the thoroughness of the investigation.

Russia’s Proton rocket successfully launched a Canadian communications satellite today.

The competition heats up: Russia’s Proton rocket successfully launched a Canadian communications satellite today.

This is the second successful Proton launch in a row, suggesting that the technical problems of the Briz-M upper stage have been overcome.

A Proton rocket has successfully launched a Mexican communications satellite today.

The competition heats up: A Proton rocket has successfully launched a Mexican communications satellite today.

ILS, the company that launches the commercial Proton rocket, needed this success badly, considering the recent problems they have had with the Proton’s Briz-M upper stage.

ILS, the company that launches the Russian Proton rocket, has lowered its prices.

The competition heats up: ILS, the company that launches the Russian Proton rocket, has lowered its prices.

The reason they have given is that the insurance rates to use their rocket have risen due to the three Proton rocket failures in the past two years and that they want to offset that cost for their customers. I suspect a second reason is the price pressure that the Falcon 9 is placing on them.

Just two months after the failure of its second stage during launch, Russia’s Proton rocket successfully put a communications satellite into orbit yesterday.

The competition heats up: Just two months after the failure of its second stage during launch, Russia’s Proton rocket successfully put a communications satellite into orbit yesterday.

This quote, from this Space News article, also implies that there is increasing competitive pressure in the launch industry, which I attribute to the success of SpaceX’s Falcon 9:

Perhaps the most striking element of the launch is that Washington- and Luxembourg-based Intelsat agreed to proceed with it so soon after the August failure of the Proton Breeze-M upper stage. It has been common practice following previous Proton failures that a Russian government mission would be the customer on the return to flight. In this case, Intelsat and its insurance underwriters were sufficiently persuaded that Reston, Va.-based ILS and Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow had come to grips with the issue to agree to be the customer for the first flight after the failure.