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Previous Proton mission: Failed launch with GLONASS satellites
Above: Ground track and flight profile of the Proton mission to deliver Astra-2E satellite.
Proton successfully delivers Astra-2E
Russia's workhorse rocket successfully returned to flight after an accident in July.
The Proton-M launcher with a Briz-M upper stage lifted off as scheduled from Pad 39 at Site 200 in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, at 01:38:10 Moscow Time (5:38 p.m. EDT on Sunday, September 29).
The launch vehicle was carrying the 6,020-kilogram Astra-2E communications satellite for the SES company based in Luxemburg.
The mission comes almost three months after a previous Proton rocket crashed destroying a trio of Russian GLONASS navigation satellites less than a minute after its liftoff from Baikonur. Nobody was hurt in the accident, but a subsequent investigation found serious human errors in the assembly process at the rocket's manufacturer in Moscow and the lack of oversight that led to the failure of the vehicle's flight control system. Russian space agency, Roskosmos, then promised a broad review across the rocket industry to improve the quality control and ensure the success of future launches.
To deliver Astra-2E, first, second and third stages of Proton M were expected to follow a standard ascent trajectory heading to an initial parking orbit with an inclination 51.5 degrees toward the Equator, followed by five firings of the Briz-M upper stage.
After the separation from the third stage, the payload section including Briz-M and Astra-2E, will still be on a sub-orbital trajectory. The Briz-M stage will conduct pre-programmed maneuvers to advance the orbital unit first to a circular parking orbit, then to an intermediate orbit, followed by a transfer orbit, and finally to a geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Separation of the Astra-2E satellite into a 4,020 by 35,736-kilometer orbit with an inclination 23 degrees toward the Equator was scheduled to occur approximately nine hours, 12 minutes after liftoff.
The satellite would then use its own propulsion system to enter a geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Equator.
Built by EADS Astrium based on its Eurostar E3000 platform, the Astra-2E satellite was equipped with 60 Ku- and four Ka-band transponder payloads for the delivery of high-performance Direct-to-Home, DTH, and next-generation broadband services in Europe, Middle East and Africa during the satellite's projected 15 years of service. By the end of its service life, a pair of the satellite's solar panels with a total span of 40 meters were guaranteed to deliver 13 kilowatts of power.
To be positioned at 28.2 degrees East longitude over the Equator, the spacecraft was designed to bring replacement and growth capacity at that location, adding to SES’ fleet of over 50 geostationary satellites, thus ensuring reliable and secure connectivity to over 99 percent of the world’s population.
The satellite would be controlled from EADS Astrium's ground station in Toulouse, France.
According to original plans, this mission was to carry the Astra-2F satellite in the fourth quarter of 2012. However due to problems with Astra-2E satellite, it was rescheduled to fly on the delayed Proton mission in the second quarter of 2013, while Astra-2F was switched to an Ariane-5 rocket available for launch in 2012. By November 2012, the mission was expected in March 2013. By March the mission was promised in April 2013. By April, the mission slipped to July 19 and by the end of May it was set for July 20 at 01:43:54 Moscow Summer Time.
An An-124 transport plane delivered the satellite to the launch site on June 14, and its Briz-M upper stage followed four days later. However the launch preparation campaign was interrupted by the July 2 launch accident. By the middle of July, the mission was re-scheduled for September 15. In the second half of August, the mission slipped to September 17 and the fueling of the spacecraft started by the end of the same month.
On September 12, International Launch Service, ILS, which markets Proton rocket to commercial customers around the world, announced that the mission had been "postponed today for technical reasons associated with the launch vehicle" with a new launch date to be determined at a later time.
According to the company, on September 11, Khrunichev engineers at the launch site received an out-of-tolerance reading in the first stage of the vehicle. It was determined that further investigation had been necessary, requiring the launch vehicle be returned to the processing hall for additional testing. The vehicle and satellite remained in a safe configuration at the launch site, ILS said. The launch was then rescheduled for September 30.
Astra-2E mission timeline on Sept. 30, 2013:
Next chapter: Planned Proton missions in 2013
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: September 30, 2013
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Astra-2E satellite satellite during pre-launch processing. Credit: ILS
Payload fairing containing Astra-2E satellite. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
A Proton rocket with Astra-2E satellite shortly after its arrival to the launch pad on Sept. 26, 2013. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
Proton with Astra-2E satellite lifts off on Sept. 30, 2013. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos/ILS