Russian Proton-M Rockets To Resume Launches

TMC Archives 2013-08-19

The Russian Federal Space Agency, also known as Roscosmos, has announced that it will resume launches of the Proton-M rockets on September 15th, two months after a failed rocket led to the shelving of all scheduled launches.

The International Launch Services website noted that a Proton-M rocket will be launched on September 15th, with Roscosmos announcing that there will be five scheduled launches by the end of the year. The International Launch Service is a company that is jointly owned by Russia’s Khrunichev State Scientific-Production Center, Rocket-Space Corporation Energia, and the U.S. Space Transport Inc. The company is in charge of sale services for the Proton-M rockets

“The International Launch Service’s Proton return-to-flight mission will be the Astra 2E satellite for the SES on September 15, 2013,” the International Launch Services said on its website.

On 2 July 2013 at 10:38 p.m. EDT (02:38 GMT), a Proton-M rocket carrying three GLONASS navigation satellites blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Shortly after lift-off, the rocket began to lose control, oscillating wildly and swerving off course. Less than a minute after launching, the Proton-M rocket burst into flames, crashing into the ground in a massive explosion of fire and smoke. The destruction of the Proton-M rocket and the three navigation satellites resulted in a loss of $1.3 billion in equipment.

A government commission was set up to investigate the crash shortly thereafter, tasked with finding the cause of the incident. Sources linked to the investigation reported that “upside down sensors” resulted in the crash. The government commission revealed that at least three out of the six angular rate sensors were not installed properly; this in turn led to the sensors failing to send correct signals to the rocket’s engine control system.

When the rocket started to yaw and veer of course 17 seconds after lift-off, the rocket was unable to maneuver itself back onto its correct flight path, instead turning the wrong direction and crashing into the ground. Investigators discovered traces of forced installation, and noted that the error was not detected at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center in Moscow where the Proton-M rocket was assembled.

The Proton-M Rocket specifications. (NPOInterCoS)

The fiery wreckage of the rocket subsequently exploded when it crashed into the area, close to another launch pad used for Proton-M rockets. At the time of the launch, the rocket was carrying 600 tonnes of heptyl, amyl and kerosene, contaminating the area. Residents were evacuated as a precaution from the surround area immediately after the crash, and a clean-up operation is still underway. In fact, Roscosmos Baikonur department head Anatoly Belokon refuted the September 15th launch date, saying that no future launches would occur at the Baikonur cosmodrome until the clean-up process was completed.

The loss of the three GLONASS navigation satellites is not expected to affect the overall accuracy of the Russian-alternative to the US Global Positioning System, as they were meant to be reserve satellites. Recent issues in the Russian space program is also not likely to affect launch vehicles to the International Space Station, with Russia being the only nation with the capabilities to send an astronaut into space at the moment. However, the Proton-M launch failure could have negative consequences for the ILS. The Proton-M rocket is Russia’s most popular commercial launch vehicle, with half of the world’s largest commercial telecommunications satellites being sent into space using the Proton-M rocket.

For more information about the Proton rocket, visit: http://www.russianspaceweb.com/proton.html
For more information on International Launch Services, visit:  http://www.ilslaunch.com/
Visit the Russian Federal Space Agency’s homepage at: http://www.roscosmos.ru/main.php?lang=en

Spotlight image courtesy of The Atlantic

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Unknown.

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