Last year was not a particularly good one for the Russian space program.
The country fell behind China and the United States in launches. Its 19 attempts were the lowest in years. The Proton rocket flew only three times before being ground for more than half a year due to a launch anomaly. In December, a Soyuz malfunction sent a Progress cargo ship crashing back into Earth’s atmosphere — the latest in a long string of failures going back to 2009.
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.
In another four days, the Russians would have gone a full year without losing a spacecraft in a launch mishap. That’s something that hasn’t happened since 2009-10. In another 30 days, they would have gone an entire calendar year without a launch failure.
The loss of the Progress 65 cargo ship during its launch aboard a Soyuz-U rocket today marks the latest in a string of failures stretching back more than seven years. Since May 2009, Russia has suffered 13 launch failures and four partial failures involving its stable of satellite boosters. (See table below)
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.
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.
BRUSSELS (EU PR) — Following an in-depth review, the European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation, the acquisition of Arianespace by Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), a joint venture between Airbus and Safran. This approval is subject to conditions.
Roscosmos has denied that the Breeze-M upper stage used to send ESA’s ExoMars mission to Mars malfunctioned.
Briefing reporters in Moscow, Igor A. Komarov reiterated statements made by Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow, saying the Breeze-M upper stage separated ExoMars without incident and then proceeded with the standard passivation and collision-avoidance maneuvers.
Komarov said he had seen photos taken from a Brazilian ground telescope that appeared to show small objects in the vicinity of the Breeze-M stage and ExoMars.
“I do have these pictures, provided by the Brazilian observatory, showing the ExoMars spacecraft surrounded by some dimly illuminated objects reportedly related to the upper stage,” Komarov said.
“Telemetry and other objectively verifiable data available to us, covering the entire time from the separation and the contamination and collision avoidance maneuvers to the passivation of the upper stage, show that all these steps have been performed successfully, without any anomalies,” Komarov said. “There is absolutely no indication of an upper-stage explosion or breakup.”
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 Anatoly Zak 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.
Launch is scheduled for 09:31 GMT (10:31 CET) on 14 March with first acquisition of signal expected at around 21:29 GMT (22:29 CET).
Follow @ESA_ExoMars, @esaoperations and @esascience on twitter for additional #ExoMars coverage. Once mission controllers have established contact with TGO following acquisition of signal, the @ESA_TGO Twitter account will become active.
08:30 GMT / 09:30 CET Morning programme, including live launch coverage
11:00 GMT / 12:00 CET Afternoon programme, including regular live updates on the status of the mission, a series of dedicated presentations on the scientific goals and operational challenges and milestones of the ExoMars missions, and informal question and answer sessions
21:10 GMT / 22:10 CET Evening programme, including confirmation of spacecraft separation, solar array deployment and first acquisition of signal
Video Caption: Animation visualising milestones during the launch of the ExoMars 2016 mission and its cruise to Mars. The mission comprises the Trace Gas Orbiter and an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, which are scheduled to be launched on a four-stage Proton-M/Breeze-M rocket from Baikonur during the 14–25 March 2016 window. About ten-and-a-half hours after launch, the spacecraft will separate from the rocket and deploy its solar wings. Two weeks later, its high-gain antenna will be deployed. After a seven-month cruise to Mars, Schiaparelli will separate from TGO on 16 October. Three days later it will enter the martian atmosphere, while TGO begins its entry into Mars orbit.
The size of the global space industry, which combines satellite services and ground equipment, government space budgets, and global navigation satellite services (GNSS) equipment, is estimated to be about $324 billion. At $95 billion in revenues, or about 29 percent, satellite television represents the largest segment of activity. Following this is government space budgets at $76 billion, or 24 percent, and services enabled by GNSS represent, about $76 billion in revenues. Commercial satellite remote sensing companies generated on $1.6 billion in revenues, but the value added services enabled by these companies is believed to be magnitudes larger. Because remote sensing value added services includes imagery and data analytics from other sources beyond space-based platforms, only the satellite remote sensing component is included in the global space industry total.
Russia doesn’t seem overly impressed by the recent progress by SpaceX and Blue Origin in developing reusable launch vehicles. At according to TsNIIMash, which is the company’s main research institute.
“The economic feasibility of reusable launch systems is not obvious. First and foremost it will depend on how often launches will be made. At the moment it is hard to forecast which way the market of launch services will go when reusable space rockets become available. The designers are still to demonstrate the real costs of production and of making reusable stages for re-launching,” a TsNIIMash spokesman said.