Proton operations in 2001
First Proton-M test flight
The flight version of the Proton-M rocket arrived in Baikonur in July 2000 and at the time its first test launch was expected as early as August 2000. However, technical and financial problems continuously pushed back the launch date for the new vehicle, first to October 28, then November 4, December 2000 and February 2001. Although the Proton-M could be prepared for its first blastoff as early as the beginning of March 2001, in-orbit lighting conditions would be unfavorable for the rocket's payload, the Ekran-M communications satellite, if it was launched between March 1 and March 16. At the same time, a commercial launch of the regular Proton rocket with the Panamsat-10 communications satellite was scheduled for April 4 from the same launch complex Number 23 in Area 81 in Baikonur. Since the launch teams in Baikonur needed some "breathing room" to refurbish the pad between launches, Proton-M could have to wait until after Panamsat launch.
In December 2000, the Proton-M was rolled out to the pad to test its interaction with the systems of the launch complex. According to representatives of Rosaviacosmos and Khrunichev enterprise, the Proton manufacturer, several problems with the interfaces of the vehicle and the hardware of the launch complex were discovered during tests on the pad. During its first test mission the rocket was to deliver the Ekran-M-24 communications satellite into a circular orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Equator.
This two-ton spacecraft was developed in the 1970s and it would be the last of its kind to be launched. The two-ton spacecraft carrying a single TV-relay channel looked inadequate when compared to contemporary communications satellites equipped with dozens of transmitters. A Briz-M upper stage was designed to place Ekran-M at a point 99 degrees East longitude, where it would provide direct television broadcasts for the Eastern regions of Russia. In this position, the new satellite would replace its ailing sibling Ekran M15. A representative of the Russian Aviation and Space Agency said that one more Ekran-M-type spacecraft would remain on the ground after the Proton-M test launch. However, this spacecraft would likely end up in a museum, since its storage time had already expired and there were no plans to launch it.
2001 January-February: The Proton-M mission became a priority when in January 2001 problems with the orbiting Ekran-M-15 spacecraft threatened to disrupt the delivery of TV programs in the vast areas of Siberia and the Russian Far East. As a result, the Panamsat-10 launch was rescheduled for May and the Proton-M test mission targeted for April 2001.
2001 March 27: The Proton-M was rolled to launch Pad 24 in Area 81 in Baikonur Cosmodrome for final integration tests of the vehicle and the launch complex. Serviced by personnel of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, Pad 24 was specifically modified for launches of the Proton-M vehicle and then was the only one of the four Proton launch complexes compatible with the new vehicle. The final tests of the Proton-M on the launch pad were scheduled until March 30, when the rocket would be returned to the processing complex for fueling of the Briz-M upper stage. On April 2, the Proton-M, fully integrated with its payload and upper stage was scheduled for rollout to Pad 24 for the final pre-launch processing.
2001 April 6: The launch of the new version of the Proton launcher was postponed 24 hours due to technical problems with the upper stage. According to Khrunichev enterprise, the Proton-M prime manufacturer, problems with batteries onboard the Briz-M fourth stage forced the delay. Officials at the Baikonur Cosmodrome said that a new launch attempt will take place at 7:47 a.m. Moscow Time on Saturday, February 7 (11:47 p.m. EST on February 6).
2001 April 7: After a 24-hour delay, the Proton-M rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome into its first test flight. The launch took place at 07:47 Moscow Time and several minutes later the Briz-M upper stage and the Ekran M18 communications satellite successfully reached their initial low orbit. After a series of additional firings of the Briz-M upper stage and jettisoning of its external tank, the spacecraft reached its transfer orbit by 09:18 Moscow Time. After one more maneuver of the Briz-M upper stage to circularize the orbit at an altitute of 36,000 kilometers, the Ekran M spacecraft was expected to separate from the upper stage on April 7 at 14:31:19 Moscow Time. Rosaviacosmos confirmed the successful separation of the Ekran M-18 from the Briz-M at 14:31 Moscow Time. After a series of tests within following two weeks, the spacecraft was expected to drift to its final location at 99 degrees East longitude over the Equator.
2001 April 14-17: An Antonov-124 transport plane was to deliver the Panamsat-10 communications satellite from California to Baikonur in preparation for launch on the Proton rocket.
2001 May 4: An Antonov-124 transport plane was to deliver the Astro 2C direct TV satellite to Baikonur in preparation for launch on a Proton.
2001 May 15, 07:11:30 Baikonur Time: A Proton-K booster with a Block DM upper stage blasted off from Pad 23 in Area 81 in Baikonur. Ten minutes later the rocket successfully deliveredthe PAS-10 (Panamsat) communications satellite to an initial low-Earth orbit.
2001 June 16, 7:49 Baikonur Time: A Proton with a Block DM-3 upper stage blasted off from Launch Complex 23 at Site 81, carrying the Astra 2C direct TV satellite for Luxemburg's SES.
2001 Aug. 24, 23:35 Moscow Time: A Proton launched the Kosmos-2379 military payload (An 71Kh6 No. 7124 early warning satellite.) The mission was delayed for 24 hours by technical problems.
2001 Oct. 12: KBKHa in Voronezh conducted a test firing of the RD-0146 engine burning liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.
2001 Dec. 1: A Proton-K rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 21:04 Moscow Time (1:04 p.m. EST), carrying two standard Uragan ("Hurricane") spacecraft and a brand-new Uragan-M satellite for the GLONASS network. The rocket for this mission arrived in Baikonur around Sept. 28, 2001, and the launch had previously been scheduled for November 19 and November 23, 2001.
Comparison of Proton-K and Proton-M launch vehicles. Credit: ILS
The Ekran communications satellite. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak