Proton rocket fails to launch AMC-14 satellite

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Friday, March 14, 2008

An earlier Proton launch

At 23:18:55 GMT this evening, a Russian Proton-M/Briz-M rocket launched from Area 200/39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with the AMC-14 satellite for American communications organisation SES Americom. The rocket, operated by International Launch Services (ILS), lifted off on time, and headed towards a Geosynchronous orbit. Around forty minutes after lift-off, ILS reported that an anomaly had occurred during the second burn of the upper stage. AMC-14, which would have been operated in conjunction with Echostar was to provide direct-to-home satellite television services. It was based on the Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite bus.

This is the 11th orbital launch of 2008, and the first to fail. It is also the 334th launch of the Proton rocket, the 41st Proton launch failure, the 2,800th Russian orbital launch, and the 45th Proton launch to be conducted by ILS. It is also the third failure of a Proton during an ILS launch in as many years, following a malfunction during a launch last September, and another in February 2006.

The Proton itself performed nominally, and the Briz-M upper stage successfully completed the first of three burns. During the second burn, however, an undisclosed malfunction occurred, leaving the satellite stranded in a much lower orbit than planned. It is unclear whether the satllite is recoverable. There are currently three options, which are to declare the satellite a write-off and de-orbit it, attempt to raise it to geosynchronous orbit under its own power, or propel it towards the Moon, using lunar gravity to slingshot it back into the correct orbit. If either of the latter options are chosen, it will be at great cost to the satellite's on-orbit life expectancy.