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PICTURE GALLERY

adapter

The ExoMars-2016 Trace Gas Orbiter is maneuvered into place above the launch vehicle adapter and secured into position on Jan. 5, 2016. Credit: ESA


pad

On January 26, a Proton rocket with the Eutelsat-9B satellite arrived at launch pad for Russia's first orbital launch attempt in 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


blagovest

The architecture of the Blagovest military communications satellite. Credit: ISS Reshetnev


 

Proton lifts key space mission of 2016

For the first time since the ill-fated launch of the Mars-96 spacecraft almost two decades ago, Russia's flagship Proton rocket was tasked to send another scientific probe beyond the Earth's orbit. The launch of the ExoMars-2016 spacecraft also marked the first European mission heading to the Red Planet since 2003.

For Proton missions in 2015 click here

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Proton

From 2001 to the beginning of 2016, Proton flew 127 missions, 12 of which had failed, bringing down the rocket's success rate to 90.6 percent.

The Proton's launch campaign in 2016 was to open with a night liftoff from January 27 to January 28. Along with the delivery of the Eutelsat-9B communications satellite, the flight was to be the final qualification for the Proton-M rocket and its Briz-M upper stage, before a similar vehicle would lift the historic ExoMars-2016 mission on its journey to Mars. Several Proton launches at the end of 2015, showed increasingly accurate performance of the Briz-M in delivery of its payloads to orbit -- a welcome news for the ExoMars team.

Limited by the relative positions of the Earth and Mars, the launch window for the ExoMars-2016 extends from March 14 to March 25 only. The window will not re-open until around two years later.

Depending on the launch of the Mars mission, another team preparing the launch of the Intelsat-31 (a.k.a DLA-2) communications satellite is eyeing April 23 for the third Proton mission of the year. However, the actual launch could take place a few days earlier, sources familiar with the situation say.

Planners are also considering whether it would be possible to advance the launch of the Echostar-21 communications satellite to a late May or early June from the current window around June 25. However, the exact launch date for this mission depends on the status of three Russian federal payloads preliminary targeted for launch during a period from May to September. They include launching a trio of satellites to replenish Russia's GLONASS navigation constellation, the first classified Blagovest communications satellite for the Russian Ministry of Defense and another secret military payload.

Another commercial Proton mission to deliver the AsiaSat-9 satellite is currently scheduled for November. In addition, the US-based International Launch Services, ILS, the marketing arm for the Proton manufacturer, is currently looking at the possibility of arranging another commercial payload to fly in December, industry sources said.

Proton flight manifest as of beginning of January 2016:

- Launch date
Payload
Customer
1
January 28, 01:19:45 Moscow Time*

Eutelsat

2
March 14-25

European Space Agency

3
April 23 or few days earlier

Intelsat

4
Early June - June 25

Echostar-21

Echostar

5
June (as needed)

Roskosmos/Russian Ministry of Defense

6
July or August (?)

Blagovest No. 11L

Russian Ministry of Defense

7
September

Kosmos

Russian Ministry of Defense

8
November

AsiaSat-9

AsiaSat

*Later postponed until February 1


 

Jan. 30: Eutelsat-9B

liftoff

Opening Russia's space launch operations in 2016, the nation's workhorse rocket carried the Eutelsat-9B communications satellite into orbit on January 30. In addition to expanding the fleet of a major European operator, Eutelsat S.A, the launch was also the final test for the Proton before its historic mission to send the ExoMars-2016 probe to the Red Planet in March.

A Proton-M/Briz-M launch vehicle lifted off as scheduled from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Pad 39 at Site 200 on Jan. 30, 2016, at 01:20:09 Moscow Time (5:20 p.m. EST on January 29).


March 14: ExoMars-2016

launch

On March 14, at the beginning of an 11-day window, Proton launched Europe's only second mission to the Red Planet -- ExoMars-2016. It became the humanity's 45th attempt to visit the Red Planet. For Russian scientists, the launch marked the resumption of a cooperative effort with Europe to explore the Solar System after the failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission in 2011.


Proton could reach its lowest flight rate in a decade

By the end of May, as the launch campaign for the Intelsat-31 (a.k.a DLA2) entered its final stage for the June 8 liftoff, the Proton flight manifest also envisioned the launch of the Echostar communications satellite at the end of August.

In the meantime, the Roskosmos mission to deliver a trio of GLONASS satellites was no longer planned in the next three months. Instead the launch of the Blagovest communications satellite for the Russian Ministry of Defense was penciled for September or October. At the same time, the mission with the AsiaSat-9 satellite slipped to 2017, due to delays during the manufacturing of the satellite.

It seemed that a combination of payload delays and the increasing competition on the international launch market could leave Proton with only five or six missions during the year, its lowest annual launch rate in a decade.

Proton flight manifest as of end of May:

Mission in 2016 Launch date
Payload
Customer
3
June 8

Intelsat

4
End of August

Echostar-21

Echostar

5
September or October

Blagovest No. 11L

Russian Ministry of Defense

6
Under review

Roskosmos/Russian Ministry of Defense

7
?

Kosmos

Russian Ministry of Defense

8
Postponed to 2017

AsiaSat-9

AsiaSat

 


New Proton variants proposed

Looking to expand payload capabilities of the Proton rocket downwards, its developer proposed smaller, cheaper versions of Russia's commercial space workhorse, which were dubbed Proton-Medium and Proton-Light. They were officially unveiled on September 13. At the top end of the rocket family, a Proton-M-Plus (Proton-M+) variant was also under consideration.


June 9: Proton-M succeeds in a cliff-hanger mission with Intelsat-31

Sporting the latest round of modifications known as Phase IV, a Proton-M rocket boosted the exceptionally heavy Intelsat-31 communications satellite on June 9, during the third mission in 2016 for Russia's commercial workhorse. The rocket's Briz-M stage successfully completed the mission despite an apparent anomaly during the operation of the second stage.


Corrective actions delay Proton missions

stage2

A file photo of the Proton's second stage in Baikonur.

Working to investigate and resolve the problem with the second stage operation during the launch of Intelsat-31 satellite in June, GKNPTs Khrunichev, the Proton manufacturer, postponed several missions of Russia's commercial workhorse during the rest of 2016. By the middle of October, the return-to-flight launch of the Proton-M rocket with the Echostar-21 communications satellite was pushed back from November to December 2016.

In a domino effect of delays, the next Proton mission, tasked to deliver the Blagovest communications satellite for the Russian Ministry of Defense had to be postponed to January or February 2017. Its exact pre-launch processing schedule will depend on operations after the New Year holiday season. In parallel, GKNPTs Khrunichev is preparing the third Proton rocket to deliver a trio of GLONASS satellites, however the rocket's already manufactured second stage would have to undergo the same corrective actions in the wake of the Intelsat-31's close call.

The Proton's next commercial mission carrying the Hispasat communications satellite for Spain was scheduled for March 2017, the industry sources told RussianSpaceWeb.com. In the meantime, the launch of the Asiasat-9 satellite, which had previously been at the top of the Proton's flight manifest in 2017, had to be postponed to a period after the Hispasat mission, due to additional testing required during its assembly at Space Systems Loral.

Proton flight manifest as of October:

Year's mission
Launch date
Payload
Customer
4
December

Echostar-21

Echostar

2017
1
January or February

Blagovest No. 11L

Russian Ministry of Defense

2
First quarter (as of Nov. 2016)

Roskosmos/Russian Ministry of Defense

3
March

Hispasat

Spain

4
-

Asiasat-9

Asiasat

 

A complete list of Proton missions in 2016:

  Launch date
Time of launch
Payload
Payload type
Launch vehicle
Launch complex
Launch pad
Status
1
Jan. 30
01:20:09.03 Moscow Time
Application / communications
39
Success
2
12:31:42 Moscow Time
39
Success
3
June 9
10:10:00.019 Moscow Time
Application / communications
24
Success

 

Proton operations in 2017

 

Read (and see) much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:

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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: January 25, 2017

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: January 7, 2016

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