Proton Boosts Two Satellites to Orbit

Proton  Credit: Roscosmos

Credit: Roscosmos

The Proton, Russia’s largest booster, continued its successful entry into 2014 with the March 16 launch of two communications satellites.  Liftoff out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan took place at 3:08 am Moscow time, (7:08 pm EDT) and the Breeze M upper stage placed the Express AT-1 and Express AT-2 satellites into geostationary orbit without incident. Both spacecraft were built by ISS Reshetnev, and both will be operated by the Russian Satellite Communications Company.

The long lived Proton program, which has been in place since 1965 has now conducted 395 total flights and is still a mainstay in the commercial comsat launch industry with international (non-Russian) launches marketed by International Launch Services of Reston, Virginia.

On March 10, ILS announced an agreement with ISS Reshetnev to identify opportunities where a dual manifested payload could consist of one satellite from ILS, and another from Russia.  So far there has been n indication that decaying relationships and threatened sanctions between the U.S. and Russia will affect the ILS business model.

Between ILS and its primary competitor Arianespace, the two companies have garnered roughly 85% of the launch market for geostationary satellites in recent years, but both are now threatened by the entry of SpaceX, although the latter is not yet capable of launching the heavier satellites (greater than 5 metric tons) which has thus far been Proton’s specialty.  As the Falcon Heavy enters service however, that segment of the market is expected to come under increased pressure, with the ability to arrange dual manifested launches taking on added significance.

Posted in: Russian Space

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