Tag Archives: Proton rocket

Debris from the Proton launch failure yesterday has been found in China.

Debris from the Proton launch failure yesterday has been found in China.

The vagueness of yesterday’s Russia reports suggested to me the possibility that the rocket might have fallen into another country’s territory, something the Russians would normally not like to advertise. It appears, however, that most of the satellite and rocket has burned up before hitting the ground.

This report clarifies some details about the failure. It was the Proton’s third stage that failed, not the Briz-M stage that has caused failures in the past. This is also the 6th failure of a Proton since December 2010, a poor launch record that strongly indicates serious quality control problems in the manufacture of this rocket.

Update: Inmarsat, one of the Proton rocket’s biggest customers, is considering dumping the Proton for future launches. To do so will be expensive and will likely delay the launch of their next two satellites, both of which were scheduled for launch on a Proton in 2014. Nonetheless, it appears they are considering it.

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.

Another successful Proton rocket launch took place today in Russia.

Another successful Proton rocket launch took place today in Russia, putting a Russian communications satellite into orbit.

This is the fourth successful Proton launch since July’s spectacular failure, suggesting that the Russians have gotten the rocket’s manufacturing process back on track.

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).

New quality control problems that have popped in Russia might delay its next module to ISS by more than a year.

New quality control problems that have popped up in Russia might delay its next module to ISS by more than a year.

The company building the new module is the same one that builds the Proton rocket that has had serious problems in the last few years.

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.

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 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.

It appears there is some “dissatisfaction” among Kazakhstan officials over the cleanup from July’s spectacular Proton rocket crash.

It appears there is some “dissatisfaction” among Kazakhstan officials over the cleanup from July’s spectacular Proton rocket crash.

I think the Russians are probably rushing the clean-up in order to begin launch operations as soon as possible, and this is what Kazakhstan finds objectionable.

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 has announced that they will resume Proton rocket launches in September.

Russia has announced that they will resume Proton rocket launches in September.

Though they have pinpointed the specific cause of the most recent launch failure, they have not yet announced any remedial actions. Note also the expected number of launches for the rest of the year, 4 to 5, is down from earlier expectations.

Meanwhile, in Kazakhstan, an official in that country’s space program has been arrested for taking bribes.

With Proton rocket’s most recent launch failure, Inmarsat looks for alternatives.

The competition heats up: With Proton rocket’s most recent launch failure, Inmarsat looks for alternatives.

The failure and its spectacular nature, all caught on video — oscillating trajectory on liftoff before tipping over, bursting into flames and then crashing — cast a harsh light on Inmarsat’s sole-source decision for the Global Xpress satellites. The company’s stock tumbled on the London Stock Exchange but has since recovered as details emerged about the relatively easily addressed causes of the rocket’s failure.

Inmarsat officials said at the time of the ILS contract award that they received an exceptionally low price in return for booking all three launches on Proton and that the vehicle’s record justified the choice not to include a second vehicle in the Global Xpress mix.

The Russians admitted today that, due to the Proton launch failure two weeks ago, only five more Proton launches can occur this year.

The Russians admitted today that, due to the Proton launch failure two weeks ago, only five more Proton launches can occur this year.

Before the crash they had hoped to get in about nine launches, more than one per month, all of which were commercial in nature. It was my impression that this launch rate was an effort to provide service to their customers as fast as possible, in order to hold on to them. The crash, like the previous Proton failures in the past few years, has given their competitors a window of opportunity to grab the Russian market share. If SpaceX is successful in its first commercial launch in September the competition in this industry will certainly heat up.

Russia confirms that a Proton rocket failed at launch two weeks ago because three of six sensors were installed upside down.

Russia confirms that a Proton rocket failed at launch two weeks ago because three of six sensors were installed upside down.

They are going to subject the personnel involved to lie detector tests in order to find out who did what. We should then expect them to prosecute those individuals. Unlike the U.S., they won’t simply fire them.

The Russian investigation into the crash of their Proton rocket on Tuesday now includes a criminal prosecutor.

The Russian investigation into the crash of their Proton rocket on Tuesday now includes a criminal prosecutor.

“The investigative department of the Russian Investigative Committee at the Baikonur complex has opened a criminal case on this incident over evidence of a crime, put forward in the Russian Criminal Code Article 216 Part 1. The Baikonur prosecutor’s office is overseeing the investigation,” the statement said.

There is also another story from this news service claiming that the crash occurred because the rocket launched a half second early, confusing its computer systems.

This week’s launch failure of the Proton rocket leaves two satellite communications firms in a quandary.

The competition heats up: This week’s launch failure of the Proton rocket leaves two satellite communications firms in a quandary.

Luxembourg-based SES joins London-based Inmarsat among the commercial customers awaiting Proton launches later this year, a prospect that almost certainly disappeared in the fireball that engulfed Proton shortly after liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Inmarsat’s entire next-generation high-speed mobile communications product offer is booked on three Proton launches.

It appears that their only other launch options are Arianespace, which is booked up, and SpaceX, which is not yet ready to take on this much new business.

In other words, the launch industry has a need for more launchers from companies willing to compete for that business.

Update: Arianespace has said that if they get the orders quickly, they might be able to fit the launch’s into their 2014 launch manifest. That has the sound of a company that wants to make money, and is willing to do whatever it takes to capture the business.

The Proton rocket is now grounded pending an investigation into today’s launch failure.

The Proton rocket is now grounded pending an investigation into today’s launch failure.

This is no surprise. What is more significant is that the crash today will likely delay all launches out of Baikonur for at least three months.

[C]ontamination will likely suspend activities at Baikonur Cosmodrome for two or three months, Ria Novosti reported, citing an unnamed source within the Russian space industry. The launch of a robotic Progress cargo ship to the International Space Station from Baikonur, currently scheduled for July 27, will probably be delayed as a result, according to this source. The next manned launch from Baikonur is Soyuz 36, which is slated to blast off on Sept. 25 to take three new crewmembers to the International Space Station.

A Russian Proton rocket went out of control and crashed mere seconds after launch today at Baikonur.

A Russian Proton rocket went out of control and crashed mere seconds after launch today at Baikonur.

Video below the fold. It appears the rocket’s avionics had completely failed so that the engines could no longer control its flight. Obviously that is speculation. What is clear is that the failure was not because of a problem with the rocket’s Briz-M upper stage, which has been the source of the five Proton failures during the past three years.

This is very very very bad news for the Russian commercial rocket effort. They have been trying to recover from those earlier failures, and with the string of successes this year had appeared to doing so. Instead, they now have had their worst and most spectacular launch failure in decades, so spectacular it is reminiscent of the rocket failures of the 1950s. Worse, the failure is not because of the relatively new Briz-M upper stage, but in their well established, decades old first stage, indicating that there are some fundamental quality control problems in their manufacturing process that they have not fixed.

This cannot be good for their business, especially as they have some serious competition. Arianespace, though expensive, is very reliable. SpaceX, though new and essentially untried, is very competitive in price. So is Orbital Sciences.

Expect a lot of heads to roll.
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Russia’s Proton rocket successfully launched a commercial satellite today.

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

The troublesome Briz-M upper stage still has to get the satellite to its proper orbit, so stay tuned. Nonetheless, this launch, only a few weeks after their last commercial Proton launch, suggests they were serious about launching nine more commercial launches this year.

Meanwhile, we wait for SpaceX’s first commercial launch by the Falcon 9 rocket. Their launch manifest still claims there will be three such launches before the next Falcon 9/Dragon mission to ISS later this year, but two of those launches were supposed to have occurred already. The non-occurrence of the March MDA/Cassiope launch out of Vandenberg is especially puzzling, as there are few scheduling conflicts at that rarely used spaceport.

The Falcon 9 delays at this point are beginning to be worrisome, and suggest the skepticism of some about SpaceX’s ability to compete might have merit. SpaceX has got to launch a commercial satellite soon in order to quell those doubts.

The Russians announced that they plan nine more Proton rocket launches in 2013, for a total of twelve.

The competition heats up: The Russians announced today that they plan nine more Proton rocket launches in 2013, for a total of twelve.

I note this to give some context to what SpaceX will do with Falcon 9 this year. SpaceX has just updated its launch manifest schedule, and if the American company does what it says, it should have at least six more Falcon 9 flights this year, for a total of seven.

Should these predicted launches all take place, it will clearly demonstrate that SpaceX has grabbed a significant share of the launch market, but that the Russians are also holding their own.

Note also that the updated launch manifest still includes the first test flight of Falcon Heavy in 2013. Very interesting.

Update: The Russians are also preparing to launch their new Angara rocket family, which will replace their older rockets and allow them to launch from their new spaceport.

Russia’s Proton rocket successfully put a commercial communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit on Wednesday

The competition heats up: Russia’s Proton rocket successfully put a commercial communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit on Wednesday.

This is the third successful Proton launch this year and the third since a December launch failure. It appears the Russians have ironed out the kinks in the Briz-M upper stage, and are ready to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. In fact, at the moment they are the only ones who can compete with the Falcon 9, at least when it comes to price.

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.

The investigation into the failure of the Proton rocket’s Briz-M upper stage on December 8 has pinpointed the failure to a turbopump.

The investigation into the failure of the Proton rocket’s Briz-M upper stage on December 8 has pinpointed the failure to a turbopump.

While it is a good thing that they have found the cause of the failure, this is not the same component that failed previously. Moreover, after the previous failure the Russians had said they would dismantle and inspect all Briz-M stages under production. It is obvious that they did not find this turbopump problem then.

All told, these issues do not recommend the Briz-M upper stage or the Proton rocket that depends on it. What else might be wrong with this upper stage that they might be missing? Until they can reassure potential customers that this question has been answered, the Russians are going to have a serious problem competing in the increasingly competitive launch market.

During a launch yesterday the upper stage of Russia’s Proton rocket failed to put the satellite into its proper orbit.

Bad news for Russia: During a launch yesterday the upper stage of a Proton rocket failed to put the satellite into its proper orbit.

With this, the third failure in the past 16 months for the Briz-M upper stage, I expect that the Proton’s customers will continue to flee, as has Echostar.

A Russian Proton rocket, scheduled for launch in late December, is being replaced because of damage sustained during transport from its factory.

A Russian Proton rocket, scheduled for launch in late December, is being replaced because of damage sustained during transport from its factory.

This is not the first time this has happened. In 2010 a Soyuz capsule had to be replaced for the same reason. Modern television journalism (if one can call it that) would immediately ask “Is this a trend?” I instead wonder what the details are in both cases, which unfortunately are not available.

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