Failed launch of Proton-M with Mexsat-Centenario!

On May 16, 2015, International Launch Services (ILS) conducted launch of Proton-M launch vehicle with Breeze-M upper stage and Mexsat-1, called Centenario, Mexican telecommunications satellite from Pad 39 at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

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Mexsat-Centenario mission poster. Credit: ILS

During the 3rd stage burn a flight anomaly happened, resulting in the mission's failure. According to the release, issued by Roscosmos, "incorrect operation of 3rd stage engines was detected on the 497th sec of flight. Failure hapened at the altitude of 161 km. 3rd stage, upper stage and the satellite almost completely burnt in the atmosphere."

On May 29 Roscosmos officially informed about the Proton-M launch failure investigation results. Commission concluded that the failure was caused by 3rd stage steering engine malfunction. The malfunction, in turn, was resulted from high vibration loads that were caused by turbopump's rotor unbalancing due to high temperatures and poor trim balance.

Launch of Proton-M with Mexsat-Centenario satellite
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Launch provider ILS, commercial branch of Khrunichev Space Center, has launched Centenario satellite for the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) of Mexico, the national federal entity that regulates commercial road traffic and broadcasting, and satellite services provider Telecomunicaciones de México (Telecomm), which is incorporated into SCT.

During the press-conference Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, Secretary of Communications and Transportation, emphasized that Mexico invested an estimated $300 million in Centenario design and development, and $90 million in the launch service. All this amount will be covered by insurers. Interesting to note that, answering a question about the selection of ILS as a launch provider despite recent issues with Proton rockets, Ruiz Esparza explained that the service was contracted in 2012 and that rescinding on that contract would have led to a significant penalty of around $60 million.

Boeing is disappointed by the loss of the Centenario satellite on May 16, 2015. We stand ready to assist the Mexican government in any way we can to enable our customer to meet its communications needs for the people of Mexico. Centenario was the first of two satellites Boeing is building for the government’s Mexsat telecommunications system. We will continue to partner with the Mexican government to ensure its second satellite, Morelos 3, will be ready for launch later this year. Boeing statement on loss of the Centenario satellite

Mexsat-1 satellite, called Centenario in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, was part of Mexico's next-generation satellite communications system that provides communications services for voice, data, video transmission and internet access in remote areas. The system consists of three satellites, two ground sites and associated network.

The spacecraft was built by Boeing Satellite Systems on the 702HP GEM satellite platform. It weighs 5325 kg at lift-off and is fitted with L-band and Ku-band transponders. Centenario was expected to offer mobile satellite services to support national security, civil and humanitarian efforts, including disaster relief, emergency services, telemedicine, rural education, and governmental agencies' operations.

Processing of Mexsat-Centenarion at Baikonur's facilities
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This was the second launch of Proton-M this year after Inmarsat 5-F2 mission, conducted on February 1, 89th commercial mission of Proton-M conducted by ILS, and 404th Proton-M launch overall.

Ironically, 404 also means 'Not Found' error message, HTTP standard response code indicating that client able to communicate with a given server, but the server could not find what was requested. Hashtag #404RocketNotFound immediately became popular throughout social media.

Gallery of Proton-M/Satmex-8 mission, conducted in March 2013

Mexsat-Centenario mission was the second launch failure for Russian space industry within a month, after Soyuz-2.1a's inability to deliver Progress M-27M cargo spaceship to a calculated orbit on its way to the ISS. Before that Proton-M failed to deploy Ekspress-AM4R telecom satellite in May 2014 and, in July 2013, 3 Glonass-M navigation satellites were destroyed in a launch failure of the very same rocket.

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