Launch crisis for satellite operators

 

On December 7th a Russian Proton rocket suffered a serious malfunction and three satellites it was carrying tumbled into the Pacific Ocean after launch. The Glonass satellites would have served Russia’s GPS navigation. 

A formal Board of Inquiry has been set up to determine the cause of the failure. However, this will take some weeks to report, and then possibly fix, and will inevitably delay the launch of Eutelsat’s giant Ka-Sat craft, originally planned for December 19th. The Eutelsat satellite was to have been launched by a similar Proton rocket, although with a different upper stage to the failed Glonass launch.

International Launch Systems (ILS), which is responsible for the Eutelsat launch, says they will continue work on the installation of Ka-Sat onto the Proton rocket pending the results of the Inquiry Board’s findings.

However, the delay could not come at a more challenging time for the satellite launch industry. It is still recovering from the catastrophic failure two years ago of a Sea Launch system, which sent that company into near-bankruptcy. Consequently, there’s been a build-up in demand for launch capacity and this latest interruption will only exacerbate the situation.

For example, Arianespace had hoped to make 7 launches this year, but has only managed 5 to date. Russia’s Proton/ILS system has another 8 planned launches (plus Ka-Sat) between now and the middle of 2011.

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