Proton Return To Flight

Posted: December 13, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s not rocket science, it’s rocket fuel science.

No wait: it’s not rocket science, it’s measurements and status monitoring.

From SpaceNews:

Russia’s Proton rocket will return to service at the end of December to launch a large commercial telecommunications satellite following a government inquiry that found the vehicle’s Dec. 5 failure was caused by overfueling of its upper stage, Russian and International Launch Services (ILS) officials said Dec. 10.

The state commission investigating the failure, in which three Russian Glonass timing and navigation satellites were destroyed, has cleared Proton’s three lower stages from any involvement in the malfunction. Commercial Proton rockets marketed by Reston, Va.-based ILS use the same lower three stages but a different upper stage, called Breeze M. The Glonass launch used a new version of the Russian Block DM upper stage.

How do you account for such a blunder?

In what appears to have been a remarkable oversight, the personnel fueling the Block DM stage for the Glonass launch did not account for the larger tanks. That led to loading between 1,000 and 2,000 kilograms more propellant on the Block DM stage than what had been planned for the Glonass mission. Like the U.S. GPS navigation satellites, the Glonass system operates in medium Earth orbit.

SpaceNews is kind in describing this as merely “a remarkable oversight.”  The interesting question is how much was it overloaded and why didn’t anyone know?  Isn’t the fuel load metered and isn’t there telemetry?  And what’s the deal with the wide range of overload: between 2200 and 4400 pounds?  Does anyone really know?  Did anyone check?  It would appear no.  Ah, but back to the failure…

As a result of the excess propellant, the Proton’s third stage, suffering from the additional weight it was carrying, underperformed, placing the Block DM stage and the stack of Glonass satellites into a lower-than-planned, suborbital drop-off point.

Next thing you know, splish-splash Glonass takin’ a bath.

Who wants to be the next Proton ride? 

It may be based on the customers risk tolerance and insurance and in the assurances ILS will offer.

…ILS will spend the week of Dec. 13 in Moscow reviewing the state commission’s findings. After consulting with insurance underwriters and with Paris-based Eutelsat, whose Ka-Sat satellite is ILS’s next Proton passenger, Ka-Sat’s launch will be moved from Dec. 20 to a yet undetermined date in late December, he said.



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