International Launch Services (ILS) returned to action early on Thursday (local time) with the long-awaited launch of its Proton-M launch vehicle with the EchoStar XXI satellite. The Russian workhorse – along with its Breeze-M upper stage partner – launched from Launch Pad 24 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 03:45 UTC on a launch profile that lasted over nine hours.
This mission has been heavily delayed due to issues that began with the previous ILS launch which was almost a year ago to the day.
That previous mission, with the Intelsat-31 satellite – was successful. However, there was an underperformance with the Upper Stage that required an investigation.
An accident commission called for the development of corrective actions on the stage before it could be used again. Notes about the Upper Stage issue were reported in the Russian media, while very little was said by either ILS or its partners. All ILS noted after the Intelsat mission was the satellite’s successful deployment.
The delay was only supposed to last until later in 2016. However, issues with the rocket’s engines then resulted in the mission moving deep into the following year.
The delay is now a record for the Proton with the previous being 247 days, between the final UR-500 (the original two-stage Proton) on 6 July 1966, and the maiden flight of the Proton-K on 10 March 1967.
That record delay is highly unusual due to the Proton vehicle’s rich heritage of over 400 launches since 1965.
The rocket 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 Proton M launch profile utilized a 5-burn Breeze M mission design. The first three stages of the Proton used a standard ascent profile to place the orbital unit (Breeze M upper stage and the EchoStar XXI satellite) into a sub-orbital trajectory.
From this point in the mission, the Breeze M performed planned mission maneuvers to advance the orbital unit first to a nearly circular parking orbit, then to an intermediate orbit, followed by a transfer orbit, and finally to a geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Separation of the EchoStar XXI satellite is scheduled occurred approximately 9 hours, 13 minutes after liftoff.
“We have been honored to have served EchoStar for nearly 20 years now, dating back to the launch of the EchoStar IV satellite on Proton in 1998,” said Kirk Pysher, President of ILS.
“The ILS team is very proud to have played a role in the expansion of the EchoStar satellite fleet and enabling connectivity across Europe, with the successful launch of EchoStar XXI. Our sincere thanks to all of the EchoStar XXI team members who played a vital role in the success of this mission.”
EchoStar XXI is a state-of-the-art S-band satellite designed to provide mobile connectivity throughout Europe.
The spacecraft, based on SSL’s 1300 bus, will be located at the 10.25 degrees East orbital slot.
EchoStar subsidiary EchoStar Mobile Limited, an EU-wide licensee for an integrated mobile satellite service network with a complementary ground component, will utilize a portion of the capacity on EchoStar XXI to provision its next-generation, all IP-enabled mobile communications network.
With its S-Band mobile user link and Ka-Band gateway link, the satellite is anticipated to have a service life of 15 years.
“The launch of EchoStar XXI is a major milestone in the continued expansion of our satellite fleet,” added Anders Johnson, executive director of EchoStar Mobile and president of EchoStar Satellite Services L.L.C.
“EchoStar XXI will provide capacity to EchoStar Mobile for commercial wholesalers with a new, advanced network for reliable, IP-based MSS voice and data services in Europe. We appreciate the hard work and dedication of all of the team members from EchoStar, SSL, ILS and Khrunichev, who played a role in the successful launch of EchoStar XXI.”
Now in space, the satellite is successfully performing post-launch maneuvers according to plan. The satellite deployed its solar arrays on schedule following its launch and will begin thruster firings in the coming days to navigate to its final geosynchronous orbital slot.
“I would like to thank EchoStar, ILS and the SSL engineers and technicians whose patience, commitment, and teamwork helped make the EchoStar XXI launch a success,” noted John Celli, president of SSL.
“EchoStar and SSL have worked together for many years and both of our companies share a focus on providing reliable and innovative solutions to our customers. We are very pleased that EchoStar XXI is launched and performing as planned.”
In what was the 94th ILS Proton launch and 412th Proton launch overall, this was also the fifth EchoStar satellite and 29th SSL satellite to be launched on a Proton.
(Images via ILS)