Spaceflight Insider

Is it or isn’t it? Confusion surrounds possibility Proton placed Ekspress AM-6 into wrong orbit

Shortly after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrone in Kazakhstan at 1:09 p.m. EDT (1709 GMT) - it was discovered that the Ekspress AM-6 satellite had been placed in the wrong orbit. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

A report appearing on NASASpaceFlight (NSF) has indicated that while the initial phase of the launch of the Russian Ekspress AM-6 telecommunications satellite might have gone off as planned – the later stages of the mission were less than perfect. NSF’s Chris Bergin reported via Twitter that, although the spacecraft had been placed into the wrong orbit – it should be able to be placed into the correct orbit over time. How much time and what the exact cause as to why the satellite may have been placed into an improper orbit – have yet to emerge. In fact, officials within the Russian space industry have stated that the spacecraft is, in actuality, in the correct orbit.

Launched on Oct. 21, 2014 at 1:09 p.m. EDT (1509 GMT) the Ekspress AM-6 spacecraft lifted off atop a Proton Briz-M rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrone located in Kazakhstan. The flight marked a hopeful note that problems surrounding the Proton-M were behind the booster which has encountered some spectacular failures in the past two years alone. This could be why the exact status of Ekspress AM-6 is unclear. NASASpaceFlight included an update within its article which states the following:

The Proton booster has seen several failures during its history - which stretches back to the mid 1960s. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

The Proton booster has seen several failures during its history – which stretches back to the mid 1960s. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

UPDATE: Sources note the satellite was deployed into the wrong orbit, but officials have not confirmed this issue and have apparently claimed it is in the correct orbit. It is possible the orbit parameter problem – if confirmed – can be solved during the satellite’s propulsive trip to its designated orbital home.

On July 2, 2013 a Proton-M veered wildly off course shortly after launch before bursting into flames and slamming into the Earth. The payload for that mission was three Uragan-M satellites. More commonly known as GLONASS – these spacecraft are used for navigational purposes and are the Russian equivalent of the U.S. GPS system.

On May 16 of this year another Proton encountered a problem which also saw the loss of its precious cargo. This time it was the rocket’s third”Briz” stage which was the source of failure. At an altitude of some 100 miles (160 kilometers) the third stage’s engine failed – dooming its payload – the Ekspress AM4R telecommunications satellite. The Ekspress AM4R spacecraft, built by Airbus Defense and Space, was meant to replace the Ekspress-AM4 – which itself was lost due to a failure with another Proton rocket in 2011.

These are just some of the most recent failures encountered by the Proton launch vehicle, which can trace its lineage back to the earliest days of the Space Age – when it was designed as a ballistic missile.

Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, has had no fewer than three administrators in the past five years. Similarly, the head of GKNPTs Khrunichev, located in Moscow, was also replaced after the May failure. It is presently unclear if the Russian tendency to replace organizational leaders after failures take place is, at least partially, responsible for the confused nature of whether-or-not Ekspress AM-6 was placed in the “wrong” orbit – and needs to be adjusted – or if it was placed in the correct orbit after all.

Stay tuned to SpaceFlight Insider for more updates on this breaking story.

Video courtesy of RT / Roscosmos



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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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