Proton-M rocket successfully launches Ekspress-AM8 satellite
A Russian Proton-M rocket has successfully launched with the Russian Ekspress-AM8 communications satellite and placed it into a planned geostationary orbit after its multi-hour flight was completed via the DM-03 Upper Stage. Lift-off took take place from Complex 81 at 3:00 p.m. EDT (22:00 MSK; 19:00 GMT) on Monday, Sept. 14, with orbital insertion occurring at 09:37 p.m. EDT (Sept. 15 at 04:37 MSK; 01:37 GMT). This is the second successful Proton-M launch since the May 16, 2015, accident when another Proton-M rocket failed to deliver the MexSat-1 satellite to orbit.
Today’s mission saw the rocket in a configuration which included the Blok DM-03 upper stage, instead of the predominantly-used Briz-M. It is the third flight for the Blok DM-03 and it’s the first successful mission for this upper stage as the two previous launches had ended in failure. The inaugural launch of the Block DM-03, in December 2010, was tasked with the delivery of three Uragan-M satellites for the GLONASS navigation system. However, that Proton-M rocket failed to reach the intended orbit causing the upper stage and payloads to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. The second Block DM-03 was destroyed in July 2013, within seconds after lift-off. The Block DM-03 measures 18.4 ft. (5.6 m) in length and 12.1 ft. (3.69 m) in diameter.
The Ekspress-AM8 satellite is a communications satellite operated by the Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC), a state-owned satellite operator. RSCC provides mobile communications for the Russian president and the government, and federal TV and radio broadcasting services. The firm builds departmental satellite communications networks for Russia’s governmental bodies. ISS Reshetnev built the satellite platform, based on the Ekspress-1000NTB satellite bus, while Thales Alenia Space provided the multi-band communications payload. ISS Reshetnev produces technologies that have gone through a full development cycle from satellite design to satellite control in all types of orbits, from low circular to geostationary. Thales Alenia Space is the current leading European supplier of satellite-based products for Defense and Security.
The partnership with Russian industry began in the early 2000s when Thales Alenia Space and ISS Reshetnev started joint marketing of satellites based on the Ekspress-1000 platform. Thales Alenia Space has provided payloads, which were integrated with Russian platforms: Ekspress-A1, Ekspress-A2, Ekspress-A3, Ekspress-A4, Ekspress-AM11, Ekspress-AM22, Ekspress-AM2, Ekspress-AM3, Ekspress-AM33, Ekspress-AM44 (all with ISS Reshetnev), plus Ekspress-MD1 and Ekspress-MD2 (with Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center).
The Ekspress-1000NTB bus is capable of hosting mid-sized communication payloads providing propulsion, power generation, power storage and distribution, precise navigation, and accurate Earth-pointing and station-keeping capabilities. The platform has an isogrid core with honeycomb panels holding the service systems; it is powered by solar arrays of triple-junction gallium arsenide cells, Saft VES 180 Li-ion batteries, and SPD-100 stationary plasma thrusters for longitude/latitude corrections. It also has a hybrid thermal control system with a redundant coolant loop.
Weighing 2.1 metric tons, the satellite carries a payload of 1,457 lbs (661 kg). Two deployable solar arrays are capable of delivering a total of 5.9 kilowatts of end-of-life power to a payload consisting of 24 C-band, 12 Ka-band, and 2 L-band transponders. The spacecraft will cover Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South America, delivering a variety of communications services. The Ekspress-AM8 mission is part of a large-scale national program to upgrade the Russian orbital communications constellation that was initiated with the launch of Ekspress-AM5 in December of 2013.
The Ekspress-AM8 satellite will be put into a geostationary orbit (GEO) of 14 degrees west. It is designed to operate for at least 15 years. It will replace the Ekspress-A4 spacecraft launched in June of 2002.
The launch of Ekspress-AM8 was initially planned for early April, but it was delayed when metal dust was found in the Proton’s second stage propellant system, requiring decontamination of the stage and additional inspections. After the May 16 Proton failure, the satellite was put into a storage mode because the grounding of the rocket was expected to last several months. The launch campaign was restarted when the Inmarsat 5-F3 satellite was successfully sent into orbit by a Proton-M rocket on Aug. 28. When the campaign resumed, testing on the satellite was performed and the spacecraft underwent propellant loading for the flight.
Two first generation Ekspress satellites and four improved Ekspress-A satellites were launched between 1994 and 2001. The First launch of an Ekspress-AM satellite was conducted in 2003. The last Ekspress satellite (AM7) was launched on March 18, 2015, to deliver Internet, radio, and TV services to Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Ekspress satellites are the most powerful commercial communication satellites under Russian operation and are expected to expand services on a global scale. The Ekspress-AM8 satellite is part of the 2006–2015 Russian Federal Space Program and the 2009–2015 Television and Radio Broadcasting Development Program.
New Ekspress versions will be inaugurated over the coming years, including the AMU and RV series.
Video Courtesy of Телестудия Роскосмоса (Roscosmos Television)
The assembled Blok DM-03 upper stage was installed atop the Proton-M rocket earlier this week to finish the integration of the launch vehicle. Rollout of the launch vehicle was conducted in the early hours on Friday, Sept. 12. Then, the rocket was placed in its vertical launch position at the launch pad. Later on Friday, teams performed a detailed integrated test involving all stages of the rocket to confirm all electronics on the launcher were functioning to specification.
Manufactured by Khrunichev, the 190 ft. (57.91 m) tall, four-stage Russian Proton-M launch vehicle used its six RD-275M engines to lift the Ekspress-AM8 satellite into space. Nine minutes and 42 seconds after liftoff, the rocket separated the Block DM-03 upper stage. Six hours and 37 minutes after the launch, the deployment of the satellite was successfully achieved at 09:37 p.m. EDT Sept. 14 (Sept. 15 at 04:37 MSK; 01:37 GMT) after the telecommunications satellite had cleanly separated from the upper stage DM-03 and into the target orbit. Proton-M is designed to launch payloads into various Earth orbits and escape trajectories.
The next Proton-M launch is scheduled for Oct. 9 and will loft Türksat 4B communications satellite into orbit. For this launch, the rocket will employ the Briz-M upper stage.
Monday’s mission is the fifth Proton launch of the year and the 406th Proton flight overall since its debut in 1965. The launch was conducted under the auspices of the Russian government’s federal space program.
Video Courtesy of Телестудия Роскосмоса (Roscosmos Television)
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.