On Friday November 2, a Proton rocket with Breeze-M upper stage launched from Baikonour Cosmodrome carrying two communication satellites. Proton and Breeze-M contractor Khrunichev declared the launch a success. Satellite builder Reshetnev Information Satellite Systems Co. said all mechanisms have now deployed properly.
The Breeze-M, which has had a somewhat troubled history over the past couple years, fired four times to raise the orbit prior to deploying the satellites, Yamal 300K and Luch 5B, in a near geostationary orbit. This launch had originally been scheduled for September 4, but was postponed following the August 6 failure of a Breeze-M that stranded the Telkom-3 and Express MD2 satellites. An investigation into that incident ended on September 11, declaring the malfunction was due to a manufacturing defect. All of the Breeze-M constructed in that batch were subsequently examined and reworked.
On August 6, the Breeze-M fired only seven seconds instead of 18 minutes, leaving the rocket with its hypergolic fuel in orbit until it exploded on October 16, creating one of the worst debris clouds in the history of space utilization. The fall-out from the explosion is expected to last for years, with the debris crossing through much of heavily utilized low Earth orbit altitudes. The International Space Station will likely cross paths with the Breeze-M debris cloud at some point.
Observers have debated the relative importance of the August 6 and prior incidents as indicators of the health of the Russian space program. Some, including those within the Russian government, are convinced that the country is facing a space crisis. Others see the problems as high profile, but limited in scope, with the remainder of the program demonstrating long term reliability.
This was the second successful Proton-M/Breeze-M launch since the August 6 incident. On October 14, Intelsat 23 launched from Baikonour Cosmodrome to geostationary orbit. One more Proton-M/Breeze-M launch is expected this year, when EchoStar 16 is launched on November 21.
Watch the rocket being moved into position for its November 2 launch: