ILS Proton Getting Back on Track

by Bill Ostrove, Space Systems Analyst, Forecast International.

ILS Proton launch

International Launch Services (ILS) has successfully delivered the Amazonas 5 satellite into orbit on an ILS Proton for HISPASAT.  The ILS Proton launched from Pad 39 at 1:23 a.m. local time on September 10 (7:23 p.m. UTC, 3:23 p.m. EDT on September 11).[i]

The first three stages of the Proton Breeze M utilized a standard ascent profile to place the orbital unit (Breeze M upper stage and the Amazonas 5 satellite) into a suborbital trajectory.  Then, 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 Amazonas 5 satellite occurred approximately 9 hours and 12 minutes after liftoff.

The Amazonas 5 satellite, built by SSL based on its 1300 platform, has a high throughput Ka-band payload with 34 Ka-band spot beams that will be used for broadband service in South America, Central America, and Mexico.  It also has a Ku-band payload with 24 transponders that will be used for fixed satellite services for television, corporate networks, and other telecommunications applications in South America and Central America. The Amazonas 5, which has an estimated useful life of 15 years and features 11.5 kilowatts of power, will be located at 61° West.[ii]

Recent launch failures and manufacturing problems have dramatically reduced Proton launch rates. Between 2008 and 2013, Proton launches never fell below nine in any year.  However, by 2016, only three Protons lifted off all year – the lowest level for the rocket since the early 1970s. Between June 2016 and June 2017, there were no Proton launches at all due to a launch anomaly in June 2016.

However, since then, Russia has made dramatic changes to revitalize the program.  State rocket manufacturer Energomash launched a major quality control investigation, ultimately finding defects with the soldering used in dozens of rocket motors.[iii]  The engines have since been replaced and companies involved in Proton manufacturing have vowed to improve quality control going forward.[iv] So far, three Proton launches have occurred without a problem, demonstrating that the program may be rebounding.

Launch of the Amazonas 5 was the third for Proton since June, and it appears that the program is slowly getting back on track.

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