A Russian Government Proton-M was action on Monday, tasked with lofting the Ekspress-AM8 communications satellite on what was a multi-hour flight to a geostationary orbit via its DM-03 Upper Stage. The Russian workhorse launched from its traditional home at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 19:00 UTC, prior to a successful spacecraft deployment.
The Proton booster tasked with launching the satellite is 4.1 m (13.5 ft) in diameter along its second and third stages, with a first stage diameter of 7.4 m (24.3 ft).
The overall height of the three stages of the Proton booster is 42.3 m (138.8 ft).
The Proton vehicle 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 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).
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 workhorse of the mission to send the satellite to its destination is the Blok DM-03 upper stage.
Featuring larger fuel tanks than the older Blok DM-2, the DM-03 was designed to increase the available performance of the rocket for future payloads.
The Block DM carried out a three burn mission and successfully deployed the spacecraft.
Ekspress-AM8 is an Ekspress-1000HTB platform from Russian manufacturer ISS Reshetnev for the national satellite operator RSCC (Russian Satellite Communications Company).
Work on payload instruments was subcontracted to the French division of Thales Alenia Space.
Similar satellites that have launched before include the Ekspress-AT1/2, AMOS 5, KazSat 3, Yamal-300K, the 3 Luch-5 data relay satellites, the 2 GLONASS-K nav sats and the failed Telkom 3.
The Ekspress-AT1 is the most similar spacecraft to the Ekspress-AM8 bird.
The original launch date has suffered from delays. Originally scheduled to launch in 2014, it slipped into May of this year when the Proton’s second stage fuel lines were discovered to be contaminated with metallic dust. Another issue with the launch vehicle slipped the launch into September.
Meanwhile, an ILS Proton-M has secured a new contract for HISPASAT.
Set for launch in the first half of 2017 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the satellite will be one of the two satellites that Space Systems Loral LLC (SSL) of Palo Alto, California is building for Hispasat, Hispasat 1F or Amazonas 5. Both weigh approximately 5 metric tons, with the other contract going to SpaceX.
ILS will dual integrate both missions and Hispasat will have the flexibility to determine the satellite-to-launcher assignments very late, based on business and schedule considerations.
“The partnership of HISPASAT satellites launching on Proton dates back over 10 years with the successful launch of HISPASAT’s first AMAZONAS satellite in 2004 on ILS Proton,” noted new ILS President Kirk Pysher, who recently took over from Phil Slack.
“We are proud that HISPASAT continues to place its trust in us to expand business with this launch in 2017, another powerful satellite to augment their fleet. ILS and Khrunichev look forward to working with HISPASAT on this important mission.”
The satellites will have an expected useful life of 15 years and will be built on SSL’s flight-proven 1300 platform.
Despite Proton’s issues over recent years, Carlos Espinós Gómez, CEO of HISPASAT, noted his faith in the rocket.
“Proton is the right choice for HISPASAT and allows us the flexibility we need to support our schedule critical business plan. We are confident that the performance of the Proton launcher will continue to support our plan to strategically enable connectivity in these high-growth markets.”