International Launch Services (ILS) launched their Russian Proton-M rocket on Saturday, carrying the MexSat-1 (Centenario) communications satellite on what was supposed to be a multi-hour flight to its transfer orbit. Launch from Pad 39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was nominal, before the ascent suffered a third stage failure resulting in the loss of the mission.
The Proton booster that launched the Boeing-built satellite has a heritage of over 400 launches since 1965 and is built by Khrunichev Research and State Production Center, one of the pillars of the global space industry and the majority owner of ILS.
The Proton’s first stage consists of a central tank containing the oxidizer surrounded by six outboard fuel tanks. Each fuel tank also carries one of the six RD-276 engines that provide first stage power. Total first stage vacuum-rated level thrust is 11.0 MN (2,500,000 lbf).
Of a conventional cylindrical design, the second stage is powered by three RD-0210 engines plus one RD-0211 engine and develops a vacuum thrust of 2.4 MN (540,000 lbf).
Powered by one RD-0213 engine, the third stage develops thrust of 583 kN (131,000 lbf), and a four-nozzle vernier engine that produces thrust of 31 kN (7,000 lbf). This is the stage that appears to have suffered the problem during Saturday’s launch.
Guidance, navigation, and control of the Proton-M during operation of the first three stages is carried out by a triple redundant closed-loop digital avionics system mounted in the Proton’s third stage.
The mission was to utilize a 5-burn profile, following the ascent using the first three stages to place the orbital unit – the Breeze M upper stage and the Centenario satellite – into a sub-orbital trajectory.
From this point in the mission, the Breeze M was to perform planned mission maneuvers to advance the orbital unit first to a circular parking orbit, then to an intermediate orbit, followed by a transfer orbit, and finally to a geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Separation of the Centenario satellite was to occur approximately 9 hours, 13 minutes after liftoff. However, despite a nominal launch, with the ILS webcast only noting telemetry losses – which are not unusual – Roscosmos soon noted an “emergency situation”.
Unconfirmed reports noted the failure resulted in the stage – and satellite – soon re-entering over Russia’s Chita region.
“Khrunichev and International Launch Services (ILS) regret to announce an anomaly during today’s Proton mission with the Centenario satellite,” noted ILS in a failure statement later on Saturday.
“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.”
The failure will now undergo reviews both in Russia and in the United States, with the vehicle now stood down until the root cause is found and resolved.
“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.
“ILS remains committed to providing reliable, timely launch services for all its customers. To this end, ILS will work diligently with its partner Khrunichev to return Proton to flight as soon as possible.”
Weighing over 5.3 metric tons at lift-off, the Centenario satellite was the fourth-generation Boeing satellite and the first 702HP GEM platform to be used by Mexico. It was expected to have a service life of 15 years.
Centenario’s goal is to provide mobile satellite services to support national security, civil and humanitarian efforts and will provide disaster relief, emergency services, telemedicine, rural education, and government agency operations
The satellite carried a 22-meter L-band reflector that enables connectivity to handheld terminals, complemented by a 2-meter Ku-band antenna.
MexSat-1 is part of an end-to-end satellite communications system that provides 3G+ communications services for voice, data, video and internet access to terminals on multiple platforms.
This next-generation satellite system for Mexico is designed to consist of three satellites, two ground sites and associated network operations.
Saturday’s launch – which was delayed from April after issues were noted with the satellite during integration checkouts – was the second ILS Proton mission of the year and the 89th ILS Proton launch overall.
This launch marked the debut SCT satellite to be lofted by the ILS Proton but was the 18th Boeing satellite to ride on the vehicle.
Further information will be added to the live update thread – linked above – and this article when it becomes available.
(Images via ILS and Roscosmos)