ESA EDRS Launched as First Node of Space Data Highway

Relaying data via laser (Credit: ESA)
Relaying data via laser (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The European Data Relay System’s first laser terminal has reached space aboard its host satellite and is now under way to its final operating position.

EDRS-A was launched on 29 January as part of the Eutelsat-9B telecom satellite at 22:20 GMT (23:20 CET, 04:20 30 January local time) atop a Proton rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.


Russia Led in Launch Successes and Failures in 2015

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)
Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

Russia continued its dominance of the global satellite launch industry in 2015, conducting 29 of 86 orbital launches over the past 12 months. It also maintained its lead in botched launches, suffering two failures and one partial failure.


ESA Laser Communications Payload Ready to Fly

EDRS-A ready for shipping. (Credit: Airbus Defence and Space)
EDRS-A ready for shipping. (Credit: Airbus Defence and Space)

TOULOUSE, France (ESA PR) — After a year-long wait in storage for a Proton rocket to become available, the EDRS-A laser communications payload and its Eutelsat host satellite are finally at the Baikonur cosmodrome and being prepared for launch in late January.

EDRS-A is the first element of the European Data Relay System, which will collect information from low-orbiting satellites via laser and send it down to Earth in near-real time. It was packed into an Antonov plane by Airbus Toulouse, France and flown to Kazakhstan in November.


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.


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.


Officials Hope to Win Back Business for Proton

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

Khrunichev and International Launch Services are slashing prices and offering other incentives on its Proton rocket amid a strong and failures and stiff competition from American rival SpaceX.

Taking advantage of the slide in the value of the ruble, officials have slashed Proton flights to $65 million, which is close to what SpaceX charges for a Falcon 9 launch. They are also offering schedule priority to commercial launches and more insight into and access to Khrunichev’s manufacturing and quality control practices.

HISPASAT of Madrid, Spain, recently announced a Proton launch order for a satellite that will fly in the first half of 2017. The company also booked the launch of another satellite aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Proton’s long string of recent failures has depressed launch sales in recent years to the benefit of SpaceX and Arianespace. The table below shows failures over the past five years.

Dec. 5, 2010Proton-M/ Blok-DM-3Uragan-M #739 Uragan-M #740
Uragan-M #741
FailureRocket failed to reach orbital velocity after upper stage overfilled with propellant.
Aug. 17, 2011Proton-M/ Briz-MEkspress AM4
FailureBriz-M upper stage suffered failure of attitude control.
Aug. 6, 2012Proton-M/ Briz-MTelkom-3
Ekspress MD2
FailureBriz-M upper stage failed 7 seconds into its third burn.
Dec. 8, 2012Proton-M/ Briz-MYamal-402Partial FailureBriz-M upper stage shut down 4 minutes earlier than planned on fourth burn. Spacecraft reached intended orbit under own power.
July 2, 2013Proton-M/DM-03Uragan-M #748 Uragan-M #749
Uragan-M #750
FailureFirst stage failure.
May 15, 2014Proton-M/Briz-MEkspress AM4RFailureProton third stage vernier engine failure due to turbo-pump leak.
May 16, 2015Proton/Briz-MMexSat-1FailurePremature third stage steering engine turbo-pump shutdown.

The Proton rocket has failed completely six times in the past five years, destroying 11 satellites in the process. The rocket also suffered a partial failure in 2012 with the premature shutdown of its upper stage. That satellite was able to reach its intended orbit using on-board fuel.

SpaceX, ILS Announce New Satellite Launch Orders

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX and International Launch Services (ILS) announced new launch contracts on Monday during the World Satellite Business Conference in Paris, France.

SpaceX will launch a communications satellite for HISPASAT on a Falcon 9 and Saudi Arabia’s Arabsat 6A communications satellite on a Falcon Heavy.  The flights are planned from Florida between late 2017 and 2018.

“We are pleased to add these additional launches to our manifest,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, in a press release. “The diversity of our missions and customers represents a strong endorsement of our capabilities and reflects SpaceX’s efforts to provide a breadth of launch services to our growing customer base.”

ILS will launch a communications satellite for HISPASAT aboard a Russian Proton rocket during the first half of 2017 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. HIPASAT is headquartered in Madrid, Spain.

“The partnership of HISPASAT satellites launching on Proton dates back over 10 years with the successful launch of HISPASAT’s first AMAZONAS satellite in 2004 on ILS Proton,” said ILS President Kirk Pysher. “We are proud that HISPASAT continues to place its trust in us to expand business with this launch in 2017, another powerful satellite to augment their fleet. ILS and Khrunichev look forward to working with HISPASAT on this important mission.”


ILS Appoints New President

ILS_logoRESTON, Va., September 11, 2015 (ILS PR) –International Launch Services (ILS) announces the appointment of Kirk Pysher as president. Mr. Pysher will take over leadership from Phil Slack, who served as president of ILS since 2012. Khrunichev State Research and Space Production Center (Khrunichev), the majority owner of ILS, has provided its full endorsement of Mr. Pysher as the new head of ILS.


ILS Completes Centenario Proton Launch Failure Investigation

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) — The International Launch Services (ILS) Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB) concluded its work, concurring with the most probable cause and the associated corrective action plan which were identified by the Russian Interagency Commission (IAC) as a result of the May 16 Proton launch vehicle failure carrying the Centenario spacecraft.


Proton Back in Action Next Month

Proton rocket
Proton rocket
Russia will put its troubled Proton booster back in operation late next month after a three-0month stand down that followed the launch vehicle’s latest failure in mid-May.

A Proton-M rocket is set to liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Aug. 28 with the Inmarsat-5F3 communications satellite. On May 16, an engine failure on a Proton booster destroyed the MexSat 1 satellite.

Proton has been the most troubled of Russian boosters over the past five years, with six failures, 1 partial failure and 11 spacecraft lost. One spacecraft was able to reach its intended orbit using on-board propulsion after the Proton rocket’s upper stage shut down prematurely.

The stand down has caused a backup in the Proton schedule. The launch vehicle is set to oribt the Express AM8, Garpun, Turksat 4B and Eutelsat 9B communications satellites this year.

In January, a Proton is set to launch ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter to the Red Planet.

Roscosmos Wants to Speed Up Transition From Proton to Angara

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

The head of the Russian space agency, Igor Komarov, wants to speed up the replacement of the trouble-plagued Proton launch vehicle with new Angara rockets, TASS reports.

‘It is necessary to expedite the transition of launches from Protons to the Angara rocket,” he said at a meeting held by Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin in the Siberian city of Omsk.

Vice-Premier Rogozin said last week Russia should switch to digital designing in the space rocket industry, gradually giving up Proton boosters and opting for other models, like the Angara rocket.

“Generally, our conclusion is also related to the need to switch exclusively to digital designing and modelling of this sort of situations and, of course, it is necessary to expedite the transition to modern carrier rockets like the Angara, gradually giving up the Protons,” Rogozin said.


Roscosmos: Design Flaw Caused Proton Crash

Proton rocket
Proton rocket

Russian officials have identified a design flaw in the Proton M rocket that failed on May 16, destroying the MexSat-1 satellite:

The Proton-M failure this month was caused by a newly-found design flaw in the rotor of the rocket’s 3rd stage steering engine, rather than a manufacturing fault, the Russian Space Agency has announced, noting it will be easy to fix in future production.

The head of the Russian Space agency Roscosmos Igor Komarov said that the problem that caused the rocket to fail and eventually burn up in the atmosphere, was a fault in the operation of the steering engine rotor due to excessive vibrations, RIA-Novosti reported on Friday.

Komarov cited the conclusion of the commission he headed, saying that the vibration and failure of the engine was caused by “increased imbalance in operation of a rotor of a pump unit, due to the degradation of material properties in high temperature conditions and imperfection of the balance system.”

Read the full story.

Criminal Charges Brought Against Khrunichev Employees for Proton Accident

Another fine day for Russia's space program. A Proton crashes with three GLONASS satellites.
Another fine day for Russia’s space program. A Proton crashes with three GLONASS satellites.

If ever there was an incentive for Russia’s youth to take underpaying jobs in that nation’s floundering space industry, this is definitely not one of them:

Employees of Russia’s Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Centre have been charged in connection with the 2013 crash of Proton carrier rocket with Glonass satellites, Investigative Committee’s official spokesman Vladimir Markin said on Wednesday.

The Investigative Committee has completed the investigation into the criminal cases launched after a Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass navigation satellites crashed in July 2013 seconds after liftoff, he said.

Three employees, Denis Grishin, Alexander Nikolayaev and Diana Gudkova, have been charged with violating safety rules while carrying out works. The head of Russia’s Defence Ministry’s 1653 military representation, Marat Nasibulin, has been charged with negligence.

According to investigators, Grishin, Nikolayev and Gudkova in 2011 were tasked with installing the angular rate sensors on the Proton rocket that are responsible for yaw control.

“As a result of their violation of technical discipline envisaged by engineering and technological documentation, these sensors were installed incorrectly / at 180 degrees from their correct position,” Markin said.

This is not going to attract a new generation of engineers and technicians into the industry. That’s something they badly need after the post-Soviet slump.

Russian Audit Committee Finds Mind Boggling Financial Violations at Roscosmos

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

More bad news for Russia’s struggling space program:

Russia’s Audit Chamber has discovered $1.8 billion of financial violations in the Roscosmos space agency. According to Chamber head Tatyana Golikova, this included accounting violations, misuse of budget funds and inefficient spending on construction.

“At first I didn’t believe the inspectors,” Golikova said, Interfax reported.

The Audit Chamber has observed a sharp rise in violations at Roscosmos since last year, she said. “It was an absolute surprise for me. I conducted a budget inspection last year, and now in 2014, the number of violations has grown sharply.”

Earlier, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin blamed corruption in the space industry for the recent high accident rate of Russian spacecraft. Speaking in the State Duma on Tuesday, he said Roscosmos’ partner, the state company producing Proton rockets, is facing eight criminal cases.

One of the projects apparently seething with violations is the new Vostochny (Eastern) Cosmodrome. According to Golikova, its construction saw an overspending of about 13 billion rubles ($260 million). She says this resulted from overpricing and use of fraud schemes. The numbers are being looked into by the Russian Investigative Committee.


Years of Failures Haunt Russian Space Program

Holy shi'ski! The go KABOOMSKI! (Credit: Tsenki TV)
Proton rocket falls to Earth at Baikonur in July 2013. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

Sixteen botched launches in six years.

That’s the Russian space program’s sad record since May 2009. The failure of a Proton rocket earlier today with the loss of a Mexican communications satellite was yet another sign of the prolonged crisis affecting Russia’s once powerful space program.

The crash came less than three weeks after a botched launch left a Progress supply freighter spinning end over end like an extra point before it burned up in Earth atmosphere. There was also news today that another Progress cargo ship attached to the International Space Station failed to fire its engine as planned to boost the station’s orbit.

The list of Russian launch accidents over the last six years includes:

  • 13 complete failures resulting in the loss of all payloads;
  • 3 partial failures that left spacecraft in the wrong orbits;
  • complete loss of 20 spacecraft;
  • 6 Russian GLONASS navigation satellites destroyed; and,
  • an ambitious Mars mission left stranded in Earth orbit.

The table below shows the full extent of the damage.