Screen Capture of Proton MexSat-1 Launch
The Russian aerospace industry suffered a new failure overnight as another Proton booster, this one operating for U.S. marketer International Launch Services, failed to reach orbit. The failure occurred approximately one minute before the payload, with Briz-M upper stage still attached, was supposed to separate from the rocket’s 3rd stage. It resulted in the destruction of Mexico’s MexSat-1, or Centenario communications satellite. The launch had previously been scheduled for April 30th, but was delayed as spacecraft manufacturer Boeing worked to resolve a possible L band antenna issue.
Liftoff occurred from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 08:47 AM Moscow time, and the flight appeared to be proceeding as planned up until the 8:56 mark, at which point the launch commentator said “an emergency has happened, the broadcast is over.”
Early indications point to a failure of the third stage steering engines. Also, according to the Russian news agency TASS, there are unconfirmed reports of debris falling in the Krasnochikoy district, south-west of the Siberian Baikal region. There is also a concern regarding the risk from Proton’s poisonous hypergolic fuel, which prompted the Russian space agency Roscosmos to inquire about wind direction and precipitation in the accident area.
Ironically, Friday’s mishap comes on the one year anniversary of another Proton failure, that of the Express-AM4R communications satellite. More significantly however, it is the latest in a string of accidents which have befallen both the Proton family specifically, as well as the Russian aerospace industry overall. Inexplicably, all of the recent Proton accidents, including a spectacular flaming wreck at Baikonur in 2013, had occurred on Russian federal missions. The MexSat-1 launch is the first to occur on an ILS sponsored flight. The Reston, Va. based company has had difficulty in maintaining its customer base in the wake of Proton’s woes, a problem compounded by the successful debut of the SpaceX Falcon 9 V1.1 into the commercial launch market, and one which is likely get much worse. While the standard Falcon 9 lift capacity falls short of the Boeing 702 spacecraft’s approximately 5,300 kg wet mass, the Falcon Heavy will be capable of handling even the largest communications satellites.
As for Russia, the latest incident comes on the heels of the failure of the Progress 59 resupply mission to the International Space Station which launched on April 28th and reentered last week, and against the backdrop of innumerable construction problems including accusations of rampant corruption and worker strikes at the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in the nation’s far East.
Statement from International Launch Services:
BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan, May 16, 2015– Khrunichev and International Launch Services (ILS) regret to announce an anomaly during today’s Proton mission with the Centenario satellite. The satellite was built for Mexican government’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation, the Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT) by Boeing Satellite Systems International.
The Proton Breeze M rocket lifted off at 11:47 local time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying the Centenario satellite. Preliminary flight information indicates that the anomaly occurred during the operation of the third stage, approximately 490 seconds after liftoff.
A Russian State Commission has begun the process of determining the reasons for the anomaly. ILS will release details when data becomes available. In parallel with the State Commission, ILS will form its own Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB). The FROB will review the commission’s final report and corrective action plan, in accord with U.S. and Russian government export control regulations.