Russia’s Proton rockets have flown 129 missions since 2001, but 12 of them have failed in some form or other. International Launch Services (ILS) manages commercial ‘western’ access to the Proton system and there are fears that ILS missions could be held up for some time.
Last week, the General Director of Russia’s state-owned Voronezh rocket engine site and where the Proton’s engines are built “tendered his resignation” according to Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.
There are now considerable anxieties over an upcoming – and already frequently delayed – launch of EchoStar-21.
According to trade magazine Space News the last “successful” launch of a commercial Proton was in June last year (Intelsat-31) but there were reportedly technical problems with the rocket’s second and third stages. Widespread reports in the Russian press and Interfax press agency say that someone authorised the usage of a lower grade heat-resistant alloy in certain of the rocket’s engine components – and the departure of the boss at the Voronezh engine manufacturing is linked to these quality control issues.
Other well-sourced reports say that the wrong type of solder has been used in the construction of the Proton’s second stage boosters.
Quoting Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, Space News’s correspondent Anatoly Zak says that these quality issues could delay the launch of EchoStar-21 to much later this year, and perhaps by mid-May. The satellite was originally scheduled to orbit a year ago but has frequently been delayed. Also likely affected is the launch of a satellite for Hispasat.
Echostar-21 is an S-band satellite that would be looking after EchoStar Mobile (the successor company to the SES/Eutelsat joint-venture Solaris Mobile) and designed to provide mobile satellite services over Europe. It was built by Space Systems/Loral for Echostar.