ILS present services are based on reliable and proven Proton. But changes are on the horizon.

International Launch Services was American-Russian partnership established between Lockheed Martin, Energia and Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center in 1995. It was offering launches with Proton (Khrunichev) and Atlas V (Lockheed) rockets; now it is offering full launch services basing only on Russian Proton launch vehicle. It is caused by fact that Lockheed Martin sold all its shares in 2006 to Khrunichev Center, and company was not able to utilize Atlas rockets any longer. After 2006, ILS became Russian company operating with one of most popular rocket systems in the world – Proton-M.

Proton was developed in Khrunichev facilities in standard version in 1965. Further modifications were in 1967 to Proton-K and in 2001 to version Proton-M. Proton-K quickly became workhorse for Soviet and Russian space program. It was fueled with highly toxic hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Both propellants were igniting when mixed together and Proton-K was devoid of igniting system. Important advantage of utilizing toxic fuel was simplifying the procedure for rocket launch – fuel could be stored without cryogenic tanks. Rocket was utilized during constructing MIR and International Space Station. ILS was utilizing Proton-K until 2001. Next modification was Proton-M which became operational in 2001. It had redesigned first stage to reduce weight; changes also helped in better usage of fuel and increasing thrust. Since 1999 with both Proton-K and Proton-M injecting module called Briz-M was used. Generally combination of Proton and Briz became a trademark of ILS during times of being under control of Khrunichev Center since 2006.

Proton and Briz system has established itself as a reliable combination, but recently couple failures had existed. In 2011 due the problems Ekspress AM-4 satellite was injected into incorrect orbit because of problems with altitude control in Briz-M. In 2012 another problems with Briz-M took place – during Telkom-3 and Ekspress-MD2 mission on August and on December during Yamal-402 mission. Still problems seemed always connected with Briz-M not with Proton itself. Everything changed in 2013 after Proton-M crashed near launch pad after failure of velocity controls during lifting three Uragan satellites. In 2014 due the failure of vernier engine of third stage of Proton-M Ekspress-AM4R failed reaching orbit. Accident was caused by turbopump in third stage. In 2015 on 16 May during lifting Mexsat-1 again vernier engine in third stage failed; this time it was caused by degradation of shaft in pump system. Proton-M started losing its opinion as reliable and proven launch system. In TASS interview, new President of ILS, Kirk Pysher stated that rebuilding customers’ trust to ILS is a key to further success:

“Our primary and immediate goal is to focus our attention on restoring customer confidence and trust in our companies, ILS and Khrunichev, and our product, the Proton Breeze M launch vehicle.”

But definitely ILS with Proton-M feels the breath of competition on the back. ULA is preparing their Vulcan rocket which should be operational in 2019. SpaceX is on the best way to launch in the end of 2015 its upgraded Falcon-9 1.2v. China is going strong with Long March 3B/E rockets designed in the half of eighties especially for commercial market. Ariane-5 is reliable solution offered by Arianespace. Ukraine space industry is offering Zenit rocket which in present political situation with Russia, could became competitor after finding investor and launch operator. It is worth to mention about India where ISRO is successfully operating PSLV and gathering experience with first launches of Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with possibility of launching 5000 kg payload to LEO. Especially ISRO is strong competitor due the offering significantly lower launch costs (details about ISRO were given in this post). JAXA after successful launch of Telstar-12 has will to enter into commercial market. Thus it should not be surprising that ILS was planning to strength their position on the market with new launch system; new launch vehicle designed with stress put on cost cutting and flexibility. In this same TASS interview it was stated by Mr.Pysher:

“…we are actively marketing the Angara vehicle to our global customers. ILS is currently marketing the Angara 1.2 vehicle from Plesetsk and will begin to offer the Angara 5 vehicle from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in the 2025 timeframe.”

Cost cutting has in this case two aspects. Necessary launch towers and facilities for Proton-M service and preparations are placed in Baikonur. This is oldest Cosmodrome in the world, but since collapsing of USSR it is not in the possession of Russia. It was rented from Kazakhstan in 1994 for twenty years, but at the present due the costs of renting it seems that Russia (and ILS) will switch to their own Cosmodromes, mainly Plesetsk Cosmodrome (Vostochny is still under construction). It is obvious that no one will invest money to build necessary facilities for launch system which is almost fifty years old. If cost cutting is doubtless important, flexibility in case of ILS is probably even more important. For small satellites, Russia was relying on Zenit rocket which was available for customers by Sea Launch or Energia Companies; another rocket for small payloads was Dnepr which was offered by ISC Kosmotras (about Zenit ,Dnepr, Sea Launch and ISC Kosmotras You can read here). Due the political tensions between Russia and Ukraine it was necessary to start promotion of launch vehicle which would be fully manufactured in Russia and available only through Russian launch service providers. Another fact is that Proton-M has reached its limits – it was obvious that Russia would like to offer solution based on one rocket with modular construction for less expensive adapting to small, medium or large payloads and operated from its territory.

One year before ILS founding, in 1994, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center won contest for new Russian rocket. Reason for looking new launch vehicle was simple fact that Proton-K which was used for launching Russian military satellites could be launched only from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. New rocket was designed to be launched from Plesetsk (Russia) utilizing launch pads for Zenit rocket to provide appropriate level of confidence (which was impossible in Kahakhstan). Angara from the beginning was designed as modular system. It is basically one core with engine which could be multiplied if necessary as start booster. First project utilized engine was RD-170 and second stage fueled with hydrogen. RD-170 was designed by Energomash as four chamber construction with thrust at sea level at 7257 kN. In the course of further modifications it was replaced with RD-191 single chamber, kerosene fueled, engine with total thrust (sea level) at 7680 kN. Second stage was changed to kerosene fueled construction. Second stage (URM-2) of Angara is fueled with kerosene and powered by single RD-0124A with thrust at 294.3 kN. Different upper stages are possible to be utilized. First is Briz-M, known from Proton-M, which is designed for GTO missions. It will be eventually replace with being under development new KVTK cryogenic upper stage. KVTK is designed to offer about 20% to 50% more payload capacity then Briz-M. It will be equipped with engine which would be able to be started up to five times (it will let KVTK for complex orbital maneuvering) and operational space life up to nine hours. Another upper stage which could be used is Blok-D (especially in launches from Vostochny Cosmodrome when avoiding toxic fuel of Briz-M is required). Number of URM-1 cores (called URM-1) is depending on payload. Single core without any boosters is utilized in version 1.2 of Angara. Heaviest version, Angara A5, will be based on one core and four URM-1 as boosters. URM-2 will be enlarged to diameter at 3.6 m (in 1.2 version it is 2.4 m) and could be combined with Briz-M or KVTK upper stage. In this configuration Angara will be able to lift 5400 kg (Briz-M) or 7200 kg (KVTK). For now, Angara is after successful test launch on July 2014. It is planned that all launches under government contracts will be moved to Angara in years 2020-2015. In 2020 single Angara launch should cost equivalently to launch of Proton-M – now it is about 30%-40% more. Launch of Angara should cost at least 20% less than Proton-M in 2025 according to General Designer in Khrunichev, Aleksandr Medvedev:

“We believe that by 2025 the costs of launches will be 20% below those of the Proton,”

Karen Monaghan spokesman of ILS stated earlier that:

“…the Angara 1.2 vehicle will be priced very competitively for the market,”

It is not known if Aleksandr Medvedev and Karen Monaghan are considering Angara in present state or with implemented reusable technology. Developing reusable variant of URM-1 is still in progress in NPO Molniya. Project is called Baikal and provides for the development URM-1 version with deployable wings, undercarriage and jet engine, which would be able to land on conventional runway after launch and separating. Even if not, reducing costs for 20% is significant and will help ILS to remain competitive on launch providers market. For the moment ILS is starting to offer combined launches. For example Eutelsat and Intelsat signed contracts with ILS for such service which, according to President of ILS, Kirk Pysher resulted in reducing price to very competitive level:

“ILS recently announced multi-launch agreements with two of the world’s largest satellite operators. On October 30, 2015, ILS announced a multi-launch agreement with Eutelsat and on November 11, announced another similar agreement with Intelsat for five missions. In exchange for a commitment for a bulk buy of Proton launches, ILS and Khrunichev are partnering with our customers and providing flexible, assured access to space at competitive prices.”

Net year will be still year of improving present launch system and changes in ILS. According to Mr. Pysher:

“Khrunichev, as the designer and manufacturer of the Proton Breeze M launch vehicle is focused on improving the reliability of the vehicle and restoring market confidence. They are implementing improvements to the Quality Management System (QMS) with factory efficiencies with more automated processes, reducing the amount of touch labor. They are retraining and recertifying specialists and incentivizing essential employees with better wages. They are also reducing overall company general and administrative expenses-selling unused property and eliminating non-core programs. ”

Changes will be probably referring to general preparations for manufacturing Angara – but still ILS is at the beginning of the way to switching for modern launch system.