Proton’s Competitiveness Threatened by High Insurance Costs

A Proton takes a nose dive at Baikonur. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

The Proton rocket’s’s string of failures and its year-long grounding following a 2016 launch anomaly have raised payload insurance rates so high  for the booster that its commercial viability is threatened.

Insurance premiums for launches of International Launch Services’ Russian Proton rocket, which satellite operators and insurers say is a necessary third leg for the commercial market — the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the ArianeGroup Ariane 5 being the other two — total about 12% of the insured value.

That compares with 3-4% for Ariane 5 and 4-5% for the Falcon 9.

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Russia to End Rockot Launches

Rockot launch vehicle

The end of the line is coming soon for Russia’s Rockot (Rokot) launch vehicle.

The converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has only two more missions on its manifest before the program ends. In the months ahead, it will launch Sentinel 5P and Sentinel 3B Earth observation satellites for ESA and the European Commission.

The Sentinel 5P launch is set for June. Tass reports the Sentinel 3B flight will likely occur late this year or early 2018.

Rockot is being phased out in favor of the newer Angara-1.2 and Soyuz-2.1v boosters, which are capable of launching lighter payloads.

Rockot is a converted SS-19 ICBM built by Khrunichev and operated by Eurockot Launch Services. Flights are conducted from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.

The three-stage booster is capable of lifting 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) in low Earth orbit (LEO) and 1,200 kilograms (2,646 lb) into sun synchronous orbit (SSO).

Rockot has launched 30 times, with 27 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

The retirement of Rockot ends Russia’s second program that used  in converted Soviet-era ICBMs as satellite launchers. In 2015, the country ended a joint program with Ukraine to convert SS-18 missiles into Denpr launch vehicles.

Dnepr was capable of lifting 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) to LEO and 2,300 kg (5,071 lb) to SSO.

The booster was launched 22 times, with 21 successes and one failure. The last flight was on March 25, 2015.

Dnepr launches were conducted out of Yasny in Russia and Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

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Russia’s Angara Rocket Celebrates (?) 25th Birthday

Angara-1.2 launch vehicle on pad at Plesetsk. (Credit: Khrunichev)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in 1992, the Russian government — newly shone of the republics that made up the old Soviet Union — had a problem. Or rather, lots and lots of problems. Some of them related to space.

Many of the components for the nation’s launch vehicles and space systems were made in the newly independent Ukraine. Its main spaceport was the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the new nation of Kazakhstan. Russia’s independence in space was at risk.

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Khrunichev’s Proton Woes Continue

Proton on launch pad (Credit: ILS)

Khrunichev’s Proton rocket, which has been grounded since an in-flight anomaly last June, continues to experience serious problems with quality control, Russian media reported last week.

An investigation into quality control issues in the Russian space industry has discovered that nearly every engine currently stockpiled for use in Proton rockets is defective, the RIA Novosti news agency reported March 30, citing Igor Arbuzov, head of state rocket engine manufacturer Energomash.

71 engines, mostly used to power the second and third stages of the Proton rocket, require complete overhauls to remove defects. Arbuzov did not specify what was wrong with the engines….

“Most of the work will be done in 2017, but we understand that some portion will inevitably slip into 2018,” Arbuzov said. “Our main goal is to avoid disrupting the government space program’s launch schedule, or the schedules of the Defense Ministry and commercial customers.”

In January, Russian officials said they were investigating quality control problems at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant where engines for the Proton and Soyuz boosters are manufactured. Specifically, they believed a less heat resistant metal had been used in second- and third-stage engines.

Officials ordered the recall of all second- and third-stage engines built for the Proton launch vehicles. Third-stage engines for the Soyuz-U and Soyuz-FG boosters were also replaced.

Russian media reported last week that Progress Space Rocket Center, which manufacturers Soyuz boosters, had received four tested third-stage engines from the Voronezh Mechanical Factory.

Last June, a Proton rocket suffered a second-stage anomaly while launching the Intelsat 31 communications satellite. The third stage compensated for the under performance of the second stage, delivering the spacecraft to its intended orbit.

In December, a Progress freighter bound for the International Space Station was lost after a Soyuz rocket malfunctioned.

Proton and Soyuz are the mainstays of the Russian booster fleet. Due to the on-going problems, Russia has only launched only twice during the first quarter of a year during which officials have promised to launch at least 30 times.

Last year, Russia conducted 18 successful launches in 19 attempts. It was the country’s lowest launch figure in years, leaving the nation in third place behind the United States and China.

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More Delays Possible for Russia’s Troubled ISS Laboratory

Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module (Credit: Khrunichev)

Poor Russia.

The country keeps trying to expand its use of the International Space Station, but the centerpiece of that effort — the Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module (MLM), named Nauka — has been delayed for a decade since its planned 2007 launch.

But, with launch planned for the end of this year or during the first half of 2018, more problems have been found.

In the past few weeks, engineers found the same contamination they’ve been fighting for years inside the module’s propellant tanks. The repair team tried to wash off these contaminants, but so far all efforts to cleanse the vessels have failed.

To make matters worse, these particular tanks, originally designed in the early 90s, are no longer in production and simply can’t be replaced. Because of these tanks’ unique design, fitted neatly onto the module like the chamber of a revolver, no modern tanks will work without damaging the spacecraft.

Nauka engineers did catch one lucky break. Roscosmos originally designed the vessel with a second set of shorter tanks. But to make room on the exterior of the converted module for the attachment of a European-built robotic arm and various scientific instruments, engineers removed the them. Now, these remaining (hopefully non-contaminated) tanks could be the only chance to get this long beleaguered spacecraft attached to the ISS.

Engineers have calculated that a mix of four of these short tanks and two long tanks will give the Nauka module just enough propellant to maneuver itself to the space station after its separation from the Proton M rocket and even have some extra fuel for another attempt to rendezvous with the station if needed.

Although a thin ray of hope remains that Russia will finally get its long delayed spacecraft aloft, no one can tell right now how long this new obstacle will delay the Nauka from finally docking with the ISS.

Read the full story.

ILS Unveils New 5 Meter Fairing for Proton

Proton on launch pad (Credit: ILS)

WASHINGTON, D.C, March 7, 2017 (ILS PR)—International Launch Services (ILS) announces the availability of a 5 meter diameter payload fairing (PLF) for use with both the Proton Breeze M and Proton Medium launch systems for commercial launch services beginning in first quarter of 2020. The 5 meter PLF addresses the increased volume of today’s larger satellites required to satisfy High-Throughput Satellite (HTS) broadband capacity demands, stacked satellite height requirements, and supports multiple satellites for efficient deployment of large LEO constellations.

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Report: Proton, Soyuz Problems Traced to Engine Manufacturer

Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)
Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)

A report by Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com says problems that have grounded Russia’s grounded workhorse Proton and Soyuz boosters have a common origin: “egregious quality control problems” at engine manufacturer Voronezh Mechanical Plant (VMZ).

The Kommersant newspaper reported that a recent firing test had revealed technical problems with RD-0210 and RD-0212 engines, which propel the second and third stage of the Proton rocket respectively. The failure of the engine was reportedly traced to illegal replacement of precious heat-resistant alloys within the engine’s components with less expensive but failure-prone materials. The report in the Kommersant echoed the results of the investigation into the 2015 Proton failure, which found that low-quality material in the turbo-pump shaft of the engine had led to the accident.

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ILS Announces 2 Launches Under Eutelsat Agreement

Proton rocket
Proton rocket

RESTON, Va. (ILS PR) — International Launch Services (ILS) announces its first commercial shared launch using a Proton Breeze M with the EUTELSAT 5 West B satellite and MEV-1, the first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) developed by Orbital ATK. In addition, ILS is pleased to announce the first commercial contract incorporating the use of the newly announced Proton Medium launch vehicle. Both launches are for Eutelsat Communications, one of the world’s leading satellite operators, headquartered in Paris, France.

The shared launch on Proton Breeze M will carry the EUTELSAT 5 West B satellite, built on Orbital ATK’s GEOStar ™ satellite platform, with an Airbus Defence and Space-built payload stacked on top of Orbital ATK’s MEV-1 spacecraft for launch in the last quarter of 2018. The second mission is baselined with the Proton Medium launch vehicle with launch to be conducted in the 2019-2020 timeframe. Both missions will be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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ILS Introduces Two New Proton Variants

Proton variants (Credit: ILS)
Proton variants (Credit: ILS)

RESTON, Va. (ILS PR) — International Launch Services (ILS) announces a product line extension of the Proton Breeze M commercial launch vehicle designed to expand the addressable GEO market for cost effective launch solutions in the small and medium satellite class range (3 to 5 metric tons). Designated as “Proton Variants,” these two additional vehicles will be optimized 2-stage versions of the time tested and flight proven Proton Breeze M launch system for exclusive commercial use by ILS.

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Russia Looking to Reduce ISS Crew Size

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Timothy Peake, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (front) are set to depart the International Space Station and return to Earth June 18, 2016. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (back) will be joined in July by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Credit: NASA)
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Timothy Peake, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (front) are set to depart the International Space Station and return to Earth June 18, 2016. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (back) will be joined in July by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Credit: NASA)

Roscosmos is looking to reduce the size of Russian crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from three to two, Izvestiya reports.

“We sent a letter to the participants of the ISS program – we want to hear their views on how we reduce the crew and when, there are nuances,” Sergei Krikalev, director of manned programs of the state corporation Roscosmos told Izvestia. “We are interested in the opinion of the Mission Control Center, the Institute of Biomedical Problems (RAS lead agency on the subject of Human Spaceflight — Izvestiya), our ISS partners. The intention to reduce the crew due to the fact that we have reduced the number of cargo ships sent to the ISS, as well as awareness of the need to increase the effectiveness of the program.”

The story says Roscosmos’ budget for space station operations was reduced as part of a severe cut in the space program’s funding. Russia’s national budget has been under severe pressure due to a reduction in oil revenues and Western sanctions over its annexation of Crimea.

Another factor is that the three cosmonauts aboard the station apparently don’t have enough to do. This problem is a result of the severe quality control problems that  have bedeviled the Russian space program in recent years.

Russia had planned to expand its part of the station by adding the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) and two related modules to support it between 2013 and 2015. However, Khrunichev botched the job manufacturing the MLM. An inspection of the module after it was completed found debris in pipes and other flaws. Now, the launches are planned for 2018 and 2019.

“If you look at the original plan, we have assumed the launch multipurpose laboratory module for the International Space Station, and only then increase the crew,” Krikalev explained in an interview with Izvestiya. But MLM launch postponed several times, and the crew nevertheless increased. From my point of view, three people in the Russian segment, taking into account a set of equipment, which is now – it’s a bust.”

Reducing the crew size will free up seats on the Soyuz transport to carry space tourists, which would bring in funding for the hard-pressed space program. Russia has not been able to fly tourists since the American space shuttle retired in 2011, forcing the Soyuz to shoulder the entire burden of taking crews to the space station.

At a press conference earlier this week, NASA officials acknowledged they had received Russia’s proposal for the crew reduction.

“At this point it’s strictly a proposal they put on the table, and we’ll look at it,” said Kenny Todd, NASA’s space station operations integration manager. “As we do with all these kinds of things, we’ll trade it against whatever risk it might put into the program. First and foremost, the risk to our crew on board and the station itself. And then from there we start looking at the options and see what we can do as a partnership to try to either accommodate it, or help them realize why that’s a bad thing.”

ILS Announces First Commercial Angara 1.2 Launch Contract

Angara-1.2 launch vehicle on pad at Plesetsk. (Credit: Khrunichev)
Angara-1.2 launch vehicle on pad at Plesetsk. (Credit: Khrunichev)

RESTON, Va. (ILS PR) — International Launch Services (ILS) announces the first commercial Angara 1.2 launch contract was signed recently with Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) for the launch of the Korea Multi-Purpose Satellite (Arirang) 6 also known as the KOMPSAT-6 satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northwestern Russia around 2020.

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Roscosmos Bails Out Debt Ridden & Accident Prone Khrunichev

Inaugural Angara A5 launch (Credit: Khrunichev)
Inaugural Angara A5 launch (Credit: Khrunichev)

Having taken over Russia’s space industry, Roscosmos has turned its attention to bailing out debt-ridden Khrunichev Space Center.

Roscosmos said the cash infusion in particular would allow Moscow-based Khrunichev to repay its suppliers back debt of more than 20 billion Russian rubles, or about $300 million at current exchange rates. Roscosmos said Khrunichev’s total debt stood at 114 billion rubles as of late 2014.

In 2015, Roscosmos and Khrunichev were given new chief executives, both with non-space, commercial backgrounds. Roscosmos is now a state corporation as well as Russia’s space agency.

Roscosmos Director-General Igor Komarov is a former president of Russia’s Lada automobile manufacturer. Khrunichev Director-General Andrey V. Kalinovsky is a former president of the civil aircraft division of Russia’s Sukhoi.

U.S. and European government and industry officials who have negotiated with both men say they have brought a Western-style business approach to their companies.

“It’s like night and day,” said one European government official, referring specifically to Komarov compared to his predecessors.

Did Russian Roulette Nearly Claim ExoMars?

Artist’s impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars. (Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)
Artist’s impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars. (Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)

The Russian roulette that is that nation’s launch industry nearly claimed Europe’s most ambitious planetary mission earlier this month.

That’s according to a report from in Popular Mechanics. Zak says there is evidence of an anomaly that sent pieces of the Proton launcher’s Briz-M upper stage into interplanetary space along with ESA’s ExoMars spacecraft.

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ILS Appoints New General Counsel, Vice President

ILS_logoRESTON, Va. (ILS PR) — International Launch Services (ILS) has appointed Ralph Bauer as Vice President and General Counsel. Bauer’s appointment follows the departure of Tom Tshudy, who served as ILS Senior Vice President and General Counsel since 2012 and ILS General Counsel since 1998.

Bauer, as ILS Vice President and General Counsel, will oversee the ILS legal, contracts and export control departments. Bauer joined ILS in October 2007 as ILS’ Partnership Manager, serving as the primary interface with Khrunichev on all economic and contractual matters.

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ILS Announces Multi-Launch Agreement with Eutelsat

Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)
Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)

RESTON, Va. (ILS PR) — International Launch Services (ILS) announces a multi-launch agreement with Eutelsat Communications of Paris, France, one of the world’s leading and most experienced operators of satellite communications. The missions will be launched within a seven year period from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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