ILS evaluating dual launch capability for Proton-M missions

by Chris Bergin

International Launch Services (ILS) and ISS Reshetnev have announced they are evaluating the technical feasibility into launching two large satellites at the same time on a Proton-M launch vehicle. The announcement comes just days after United Launch Alliance (ULA) President Michael Gass noted his company is also looking into dual satellite launches.

Dual Launch:

As rockets continue to increase their upmass capability, while satellite manufacturers find ways into reducing the weight of their spacecraft, utilizing the efficiency of a launch vehicle’s power is a continual consideration for launch service providers.

Z3Arianespace are the current masters at launching two large satellites in one go, with most Ariane 5 launches involving and upper and lower passenger, separated by the SYLDA dual-passenger dispenser system.

The SYLDA is a light-weight structure adding around 500 kg of mass to the mission. It is assembled from composite sandwich panels, and is capable of carrying an upper satellite weighing up to 6.5 metric tonnes in the dynamic and thermal environment encountered in-flight.

Astrium Space Transportation Composites Centre in Les Mureaux, near Paris manufacture the SYLDA’s for Arianespace, with a new generation known as the “+2100” – 600 mm longer than the standard “A” version – enabling Arianespace to broaden the range of launch services it can offer its customers.

There are several versions of the Ariane 5 SYLDA. The most recent launch – that launched the ABS-2 and Athena-Fidus  satellites – used the SYLDA 5B version with a height of 6.10 meters, while the launch of the 25B/Es’hail-1 and GSAT-7 satellites used the D version with a height of 5.5 meters. The A version is 6.4 meters long.

During the recent Defense Subcommittee hearing into the National Security Space Launch Programs, ULA’s Mr. Gass also noted his company is looking at dual launches.

“Looking to the future, ULA is investing in new technology. We are investing internal funds into developing the capability to launch two GPS satellites at once, cutting launch costs almost in half,” he told lawmakers last week.

The competitive nature of launch services revolves around reliability and cost, with ILS known to be one of cheaper options, although their prolific Proton-M launch vehicle is prone to the occasional failure.

Being able to launch two satellites at the same time is aimed at making the company even more competitive, with the agreement to evaluate that possibility – in collaboration with JSC Academician M.F. Reshetnev Information Satellite Systems (ISS Reshetnev) – signed on Monday.

“This agreement puts in a place a solid foundation for our cooperation with ISS Reshetnev – one of the most prolific spacecraft manufacturers – in meeting the commercial demand for a cost effective solution to launching lighter spacecraft,” noted ILS President Phil Slack.

“This is an innovative approach that will certainly be of great benefit to our existing customers and new entrants alike.”

The evaluations appear to be based on the lower passenger providing the support for the upper passenger, rather than the inclusion of a structure like Arianespace’s SYLDA.

ILS note they will “mutually cooperate” on identifying spacecraft that can be dual launched in a stacked configuration “with the lower spacecraft supporting the upper spacecraft”.

Z6Per the agreement, ILS would identify non-Russian spacecraft that could be paired with ISS Reshetnev-built spacecraft and together, the companies would assess the technical feasibility.

“Our familiarity with ILS, Khrunichev and the Proton launch vehicle creates the perfect scenario which will be advantageous for all of those involved,” added ISS Reshetnev General Director, Nikolay Testoyedov.

“It will allow ISS Reshetnev satellites to be launched in a timely manner with competitive pricing for the companion spacecraft. We look forward to further collaborating with ILS and providing outstanding access to space.”

ILS opened their 2014 campaign with the successful launch of the TURKSAT-4A communications satellite last month, via the 85th launch of an ILS Proton-M.

The Proton-M will be back in action on March 15, via a Russian government launch of the Express AT1 and Express AT2 communications satellites. ILS’ next launch is scheduled for May, with the mission tasked with lofting the ASTRA 2G communications satellite for SES of Luxembourg.

(Images via ILS and Arianespace).

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