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Proton M Debuts With Successful Ekran Launch

A Proton M/Briz-M debuted successfully launching an Ekran M-18 from Launch Complex 81, pad 24, at Baikonur Cosmodrome at 0447 UTC (8:47 p.m. PST April 6) on April 7. The satellite will be positioned at 99°E, replacing Ekran M-20, which was launched in 1992, and has operated long beyond its design life. The satellite has a launch mass of 2100 kg (4628 lbm). This flight marks the last flight of the Ekran M satellite bus - the spacecraft carries only a single TV-relay channel, which is small compared to modern communications satellites equipped with dozens of transponders. One more Ekran M spacecraft remains in inventory, but will likely be placed in a museum - there are no plans to launch it because its storage life has expired.

The launch vehicle was built by GKNPT Khrunichev. The modernized rocket features improved stages with lighter structural mass and a new propellant management system which reduces residual propellant at shutdown and toxic fuel at stage impact points. The thrust of the six RD-253 engines powering the first stage has been increased by 7%. Energomash increased the trust of the engine from 151 to 160 tons. International Launch Services (ILS), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Khrunichev, will market commercial launches of the Proton M.

The Proton M flight version arrived at Baikonur in July 2000 with its first test launch planned for as early as August 2000. However, financial and technical problems delayed the mission to October, then November 2000 and finally to March/April 2001. The Proton M launch became a priority when the Ekran M-15 satellite developed problems threatening to disrupt the transmission of television broadcasts to Siberia and the Russian Far East. Depending on the results of the first test launches, two or three test flights are planned before the vehicle will be certified for routine missions. Rosaviacosmos plans for all the test launches to fly with actual satellites. The first commercial flight of the Proton M is expected in late 2001 to launch the Intelsat 903 telecommunication satellite.

A Proton Briz M can launch 3 to 3.2 metric tons (6612 to 7053 lbm) into geostationary orbit or 5.5 metric tons (12,122 lbm) into a geostationary transfer orbit. It can place up to 22 metric tons (48,488 lbm) in low Earth orbit with a 51.6-degree inclination, the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS). Pad 24 was modified for the launches of the Proton M vehicle and currently is the only pad of four Proton launch complexes compatible with the new vehicle.

The Briz-M incorporates digital avionics in the upper stage. The Briz-M also uses less volume compared to its predecessors, providing additional volume to carry cargo. As a result, the new Proton fairing will offer 2.5 times greater volume for satellites over the Proton K/DM configuration. The new Briz M upper stage was first flown on a Proton K launch vehicle in May 2000. The Briz M upper stage can also be mated with Zenit and Ariane rockets.

KB Salyut, Khrunichev's design bureau, is developing a cryogenic upper stage for the Proton M. Designated KVRB, it will use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The KVRB upper stage first flight is currently planned for 2003, increasing Proton M’s performance to GTO to 6400 kg (14,106 lbm). The development of the cryogenic stage was begun by Khrunichev in the 1980s, but has been stalled for years by Russia's financial problems. KB Salyut developed the cryogenic upper stage for India’s GSLV and plans to use this “off-the-shelf” technology for the Proton. KB Salyut has said that the Proton's cryogenic stage would carry 18 metric tons of propellants compared to 12 metric tons carried by the stage developed for India.

  


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April 9, 2001

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