Russian Space : New Year, Old Problems?

More Problems?

More Problems?


The year 2012 was a difficult one for the Russian space program, which ended on a sour note when its workhorse Proton boosted placed a Yamal-402 satellite  in the wrong orbit.  It was eventually boosted to the correct orbit using onboard fuel, albeit at a cost to its expected lifespan.  This came on the heals of an August 6 failure, which also stranded two satellites in the wrong orbit, both of which were declared a total loss.

In each instance the problem was traced to the hypergolic fueled Briz-M upper stage.   Now it appears that the first launch of the new year,  this one of a Rockot booster out of the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the far north, conducted on January 15, may suggest that the Proton’s problems  are far from over. The much smaller Rockot, which is a converted liquid fueled ballistic missile, uses a smaller version of the Brix-M upper stage as well, designated Briz-KM. although the payload was successfully delivered to the correct orbit this time, a fourth and final burn of the upper stage, meant to lower its perigee into the upper atmosphere for safe disposal, did not go as planned.  What is particularly concerning is that Briz-KM is not required to fire for as long as its larger counterpart on the Proton.

This latest problem is likely to lead to a delay of the first scheduled Proton launch of the year, that of the SatMex-8 satellite planned for February 25th.  It also poses  another challenge for International Launch Services, of Reston Va. which markets Proton launches commercially, and has a full calendar for 2013 beginning with the SatMex launch.

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