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Proton Launch Failure
by Robert Christy FBIS
Scarborough, UK (SPX) Aug 08, 2012

File image of a Proton M night launch.

Russia left two communications satellites, the Indonesian Telkom 3 and its own Express-MD2, stranded in the wrong orbit after a perfect lift off for a Proton-M/Briz-M rocket. Launch at 19:31 UTC was into a clear sky above Baikonur.

The launch webcast followed the rocket right through the first stage of flight, through ignition of the second stage and ejection of the payload fairing and well into the second stage.

The three Proton rocket stages performed flawlessly. The spent Stage 3 headed for a re-entry over the eastern Pacific Ocean south of Japan and the Briz-M stage then took over for a pre-planned, short, firing. It injected itself and the attached stack of satellites into a perfect 172 x 173 kilometre parking orbit at 51.55 inclination.

A second firing of the Briz-M main engine at 20:38:25 UTC, for 17 minutes and 55 seconds, resulted in an orbit measuring approximately 266 x 5014 kilometres at 49.9 inclination.

At 22:59:54 UTC the Briz-M fired again but shut down after only seven seconds rather than the pre-programmed eighteen minutes. It resulted in little change to the orbit.

The Briz-M computer continued to function. The satellites were released into independent orbit either by an emergency procedure, or automatically as the result of it sensing the shutdown and assuming the launch mission had ended.

The pre-planned release times were August 7 at 04:44 UTC for Telcom 3 and thirty minutes later for Express-MD2. However, there is evidence that the releases occurred somewhat earlier.

At 04:08 UTC, Kevin Fetter, an amateur satellite observer in Canada, using a set of orbital elements released by SpaceTrack after the 20:38 UTC engine firing, set out to observe the Briz-M stack. Instead, he was treated to the sight of a 'train' of four objects crossing the sky.

They would have been the two satellites, the Briz-M and, probably, the Briz-M's Auvilliary Propellant tank (APT) that was due to be jettisonned after the engine firing that failed.

Kevin's video can be seen here:

This is the second Briz-M failure to deliver in less than twelve months. After launch on August 17 last year, Russia's Express-AM4 comsat was lost. in that case, the Briz-M completed everything it was instructed to do but there was an error in its computer programming that resulted in the wrong orbit being achieved.


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