Proton To Return to Flight in December

Surplus fuel believed cause for Russia’s Glonass satellite loss

The December 5 launch of the Proton-M © RIA Novosti. Oleg Urusov

The main cause of the loss of Russia’s three Glonass-M satellites was due to human error from fueling the booster rocket with an excess of 1.5-2 tons of fuel, the head of the Russian state commission probing the incident said on Friday.

The excessive fuel caused the DM-3 booster rocket to deviate from its course, leading to the subsequent loss of the satellites in the Pacific Ocean earlier in the week.

“According to preliminary information, the problem was not with the fuel service unit at the launching site, but with one of the sensors showing the fuel level,” Gennady Raikunov, the head of the Central Scientific Research Institute of Machine Building, who also heads the investigation commission, said.

“We do not rule out the factor of human error,” he said adding that the Russian rocket space corporation Energia may be linked to the incident.

The December 5 launch of the Proton-M carrier rocket was supposed to conclude the forming of Russia’s navigation system Glonass, similar to the U.S. GPS. However, the rocket, which blasted off from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan, deviated from its course by 8 degrees, resulting in the loss of the DM-3 booster with the satellites. According to reports, the spacecraft fell into the Pacific Ocean to the northwest of Hawaii.

MOSCOW, December 10 (RIA Novosti)


Proton To Return to Flight in December By Peter B. de Selding

PARIS — Russia’s Proton rocket will return to service at the end of December to launch a large commercial telecommunications satellite following a government inquiry that found the vehicle’s Dec. 5 failure was caused by overfueling of its upper stage, Russian and International Launch Services (ILS) officials said Dec. 10.

The state commission investigating the failure, in which three Russian Glonass timing and navigation satellites were destroyed, has cleared Proton’s three lower stages from any involvement in the malfunction. Commercial Proton rockets marketed by Reston, Va.-based ILS use the same lower three stages but a different upper stage, called Breeze M. The Glonass launch used a new version of the Russian Block DM upper stage.

The Russian space agency, Roskosmos, on Dec. 10 confirmed the commission’s preliminary finding that the three Proton stages need not be grounded. A final report is due as soon as the week of Dec. 13.

James M. Bonner, chief technical officer for ILS, said the new version of the Block DM stage — which is built by RSC Energia of Korolev, Russia — features larger propellant tanks.

In what appears to have been a remarkable oversight, the personnel fueling the Block DM stage for the Glonass launch did not account for the larger tanks. That led to loading between 1,000 and 2,000 kilograms more propellant on the Block DM stage than what had been planned for the Glonass mission. Like the U.S. GPS navigation satellites, the Glonass system operates in medium Earth orbit.

As a result of the excess propellant, the Proton’s third stage, suffering from the additional weight it was carrying, underperformed, placing the Block DM stage and the stack of Glonass satellites into a lower-than-planned, suborbital drop-off point.

ILS is owned by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, which is prime contractor for Proton’s three lower stages as well as for the Breeze M upper stage.

In an interview, Bonner said ILS will spend the week of Dec. 13 in Moscow reviewing the state commission’s findings. After consulting with insurance underwriters and with Paris-based Eutelsat, whose Ka-Sat satellite is ILS’s next Proton passenger, Ka-Sat’s launch will be moved from Dec. 20 to a yet undetermined date in late December, he said.

“We will be there to do our due diligence and to review the state commission’s findings,” Bonner said. “Our assumption now is that this will cause a delay of seven or eight, or up to 10 days.”

Russian holidays the first week of January argue against planning a launch during that period.

The state commission investigating the failure was led by G.G. Raikunov, director general of Russia’s state-owned TsNIIMash space engineering services company. In a statement of preliminary findings that Raikunov signed Dec. 10, the commission says: “[Telemetry] data analyses … show that no issues with the functioning of [Proton’s three-stage] systems and assemblies have been detected .… In view of the above, the Interdepartmental Commission deems it possible to proceed with further technical facility processing operations of [the launch vehicle] to launch … Ka-Sat per the approved schedule.”


ILS Proton Launch of the KA-SAT Satellite Delayed Until Review of Data Complete

Reston, VA, December 10, 2010 – Today’s preliminary report of the Russian State Commission investigating the cause of the Proton M Block DM-03 GLONASS launch failure on December 5 exonerates the performance of the Proton M, built and operated by Khrunichev State Research and Production Center (Khrunichev) as a cause of the Proton M Block DM-03 GLONASS mission failure. However, the KA-SAT mission team of ILS, Khrunichev, Eutelsat and Astrium are standing down at the launch site for about a week and will use the additional time to thoroughly review the preliminary report and data issued by the Russian State Commission.

The KA-SAT satellite was originally scheduled to launch on December 20th from the Baikonur Cosmodrome using the Proton Breeze M launch vehicle. The KA-SAT spacecraft is currently in a nominal configuration mated atop the Breeze M upper stage and adaptor awaiting resumption of joint operations for the mission..

The State Commission was convened on December 5th to determine the cause of the Proton M Block DM-03 GLONASS mission failure as well as corrective actions. According to the preliminary State Commission report, dated 10 December, the three lower Proton M stages performed nominally. It states that there were “no issues with the functioning of LV systems and assemblies that have been detected. The trajectory parameters calculated by the LV motion control system conform to the trajectory measurements obtained from external sources. Command generation times of the flight timeline correspond to estimated values. The LV motion control system was found to have been functioning nominally, in line with the preset algorithms.”

The final report, which is anticipated within one week, will include details on the performance of the Block DM-03 upper stage built and operated by RSC Energia (Energia).

Further information will be provided on the status of the upcoming ILS Proton KA-SAT launch and final State Commission report release as soon as it is available.

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