Confusion over Russian rocket catastrophe

International Launch Services (ILS) which markets the launch of Proton rockets for the world’s commercial satellite operators, has distanced itself from the catastrophe, saying that its missions use an older – and tried and tested – version of the rocket that blew up. Additionally, ILS says it will set up its own independent failure review board to examine the reasons for the problems.

There is also confusion over which upper stage the failed rocket was using. ILS says it used a Block-DM upper stage built by RSC Energia, while early reports from the Baikonur launch site spoke about the Briz-M upper stage which is usually incorporated into the ILS-supervised commercial launchers.

Either way, the Russian launch programme is now in a mess. The July 2 failure does little to boost confidence in Russia’s rocket manufacturing programme.  And commercial clients are in many resects left stranded while solutions are examined.

For example, SES has its Astra 2E already at the Baikonur launch site in readiness for a scheduled –  but now scrubbed – mid-July launch. London-based Inmarsat has booked Proton to launch each of its three ‘next-generation’ high-throughput satellites.

Neither SES or Inmarsat is likely to switch launchers. Besides, the only real alternate is Arianespace and its manifest is full throughout this year and into early 2014. Inmarsat has a little more time (its first Proton launch isn’t scheduled until later this year).

Other Proton-booked launches include Sirius-FM6 in mid-August  and Turksat 4A in November.

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