Russian Proton Rocket Cleared to Resume Busy Launch Schedule

Proton rocket raised into launch position.
A Russian Proton rocket is hoisted into launch position for the Aug. 17 launch of the new Express AM4 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Image credit: Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos))

PARIS — Russia’s Proton-M heavy-lift rocket and its Breeze-M upper stage, which placed a $300 million telecommunications satellite in a useless orbit Aug. 18, is preparing to launch three more times in the next six weeks, according to the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the rocket’s commercial marketing company.

International Launch Services (ILS) of Reston, Va., which commercializes Proton launches, is completing its own review of the Aug. 18 failure and is expected to concur with the findings of a Russian state commission that concluded a programming error was responsible.

The Express-AM4 satellite owned by the Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) of Moscow and insured for about $300 million was placed into an orbit from which it may never have recovered. In the event, the satellite had its own, apparently unrelated, difficulties in communicating with ground teams, making any recovery effort impossible. RSCC has since declared the satellite a total loss.

With the Breeze-M issue clearly identified, Roscosmos has lifted the ban on Breeze-M flights. The Russian Defense Ministry is expected to be the first post-failure customer for the vehicle, with a planned military telecommunications satellite launch in mid-September. [50 Great Russian Rocket Launch Photos]

Satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg’s QuetzSat-1 telecommunications satellite will be next up. Its launch is set for late September, according to SES and ILS.

The Proton-M/Breeze-M vehicle has scheduled the launch of the large ViaSat-1 Ka-band broadband communications satellite for mid-October. The satellite’s owner, ViaSat Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif., said Sept. 8 that ILS and ViaSat were expected to conclude their own Proton-M/Breeze-M review Sept. 9. The satellite’s shipment from manufacturer Space Systems/Loral’s Palo Alto, Calif., plant to Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan would then occur Sept. 13.

Assuming this schedule is kept, it remained unclear how many other launches ILS could conduct before the end of the year, especially since Russian government missions on Proton are scheduled. [Related: 7 Rocket Launches in 7 Days]

Several commercial customers are awaiting flight. Among them is Astrium Services of Europe, which is prime contractor for the United Arab Emirates’ two-satellite Yahsat commercial and military communications system. Astrium would like the Yahsat-1B satellite to be launched before the end of this year, Astrium Services Chief Executive Eric Beranger said Sept. 9. But he conceded it was unclear whether a place could be found on the ILS manifest.

The Russian government has slated a Proton-M launch for late 2011 carrying three Glonass positioning, navigation and timing satellites.

This article was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Charles Q. Choi
Contributing Writer

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at