Image: Proton launch
ILS
A video view shows a Russian-made Proton rocket rising from its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday, carrying the Yamal 402 satellite into space. Authorities later said that the satellite did not reach its intended orbit, apparently due to a problem with the Breeze-M upper stage.
By
updated 12/9/2012 10:32:22 AM ET 2012-12-09T15:32:22

The Breeze-M upper stage of Russia’s Proton heavy-lift rocket on Dec. 9 failed for the third time in 16 months, placing Gazprom Space Systems’ Yamal 402 telecommunications satellite into a too-low orbit, launch-service provider International Launch Services and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said.

The launch is all but certain to raise fresh issues over whether Proton Breeze-M manufacturing team has workmanship quality issues that were not addressed by the inquiries into the failures of August 2011 and August 2012.

The Dec. 9 failure poses serious problems for Mexican satellite operator Satmex, whose Satmex 8 satellite arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where Proton is launched, on Nov. 29 to prepare for a Dec. 28 launch.

The December launch date now looks out of reach. Satmex badly needs Satmex 8, which is intended to replace the Satmex 5 satellite. Satmex 5 is expected to run out of fuel in May. If Satmex is unable to provide immediate replacement capacity for its Satmex 5 customers, they are likely to go elsewhere and compromise Satmex’s already fragile financial condition.

[ 50 Russian Rocket Launch Photos ]

The 4,600-kilogram Yamal 402, like many satellites launched solo on the Proton rocket, was fueled to capacity and is likely to provide several years of commercial service despite now having to climb further than planned to reach its operating orbit. How many years of life will be available to it remained unknown in the hours after the launch failure.

Roscosmos said Yamal 402, a Spacebus 4000 satellite built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy and carrying 46 Ku-band transponders, or 66 when measured in 36-megahertz equivalents, appeared to be in good health in orbit.

Moscow-based Gazprom intended to place Yamal 402 into an orbital slot at 55 degrees east.

Reston, Va.-based ILS said a Russian government inquiry board would be established, along with an independent ILS board, to investigate what happened.

ILS and Roscosmos said initial indications are that the Breeze-M upper stage shut down four minutes early during the last of a planned four burns to carry Yamal 402 into geostationary transfer orbit. The fourth burn was scheduled to last nearly nine minutes.

The rocket was intended to place Yamal 402 into an orbit with an apogee of 35,696 kilometers and a perigee of 7,470 kilometers, with the orbit at a nine-degree inclination relative to the equator. 

The Breeze-M failure released the satellite into a perigee of around 3,100 kilometers, with an inclination of 26 degrees, according to early indications.

The failure is the third for Breeze-M since August 2011. All of them have resulted in the destruction or in reduced operating lives for Russian government and Russian commercial telecommunications satellites despite the fact that ILS has launched several non-Russian commercial telecommunications spacecraft during the same period.

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Industry officials remarked after the August 2012 failure — when two Russian satellites, one for commercial fleet operator Russia Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC), one a commercial telecommunications satellite for Indonesia’s Telkom — that Proton’s recent launch history is disastrous for Russian operators, but not so bad for non-Russian ILS commercial customers.

The August 2011 failure caused the loss of a large RSCC-owned satellite.

Since its August 2012 failure, ILS and the Proton Breeze-M rocket have launched two Western commercial satellites, for Intelsat of Luxembourg and Washington, and for EchoStar of Englewood, Colo. Both were successful.

This story was provided bySpace News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

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  5. Accidental art

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  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
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    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
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    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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