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Russian rocket failure hits satellite operators

May 19, 2014

Last week’s failure of a $275 million Russian rocket is severely impacting other satellites waiting for launch. London-based Inmarsat was the first satellite operator to admit that its upcoming pair of launches of its Global Xpress craft (Inmarsat-5 fleet) will be delayed. The first Inmarsat-5 satellite (“5-F1”) was successfully launched using Proton in December 2013 and remains on track to begin commercial operations in July 2014.

A statement from Inmarsat said: “On 15 May 2014, a Proton launch vehicle failed shortly after lift-off, resulting in the loss of its satellite payload. The cause of the failure will be assessed by a process known as the Failure Review Oversight Board (“FROB”) and a report of its findings is expected to be completed in the next two months.  While the conclusions of the FROB will be important in determining the impact on our launch schedule, we believe a delay in the planned launch of both the Inmarsat-5 F2 and F3 is now likely, which would delay the launch of GX services on a global basis.”

“However, the start of commercial GX services on a regional basis using F1 (and F2 in due course), as well as existing customer commitments to purchase GX services, will not be impacted by any delay in global service availability,” said the Inmarsat statement.

What this implies is that at least one of the Inmarsat launches will likely slip into 2015. But Inmarsat is not alone. The next commercial launch due was to have been Astra 2G, originally slated for launch in June but more recently moved to September because of launch demands from Russia for priority access to Proton rockets. The Astra 2G launch will inevitably slip into Q4 this year if the Launch Failure Board concludes its report and that rocket repairs/adjustments can be speedily made.

Sources at French launch specialists Arianespace say they are fully booked until mid-2017 with satellites, and thus the likelihood of current Proton customers switching to Arianespace is extremely limited.

Reports of debris falling on Australia have now been discounted, with no debris found. Other reports put falling objects in China’s Heilongjiang province.


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