Russian rocket delivers Canadian satellite into space

Posted: December 30, 2002

Animation of the Proton M rocket soaring from Central Asia. Photo: ILS video/Spaceflight Now
A spacecraft to broadcast TV and communications services across Canada was successfully sent into orbit Sunday night aboard the first commercial flight of Russia's modernized Proton M rocket and Breeze M upper stage motor.

Lasting nearly seven hours, the rocket mission began at 2317 GMT (6:17 p.m. EST) from frigid Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as the six liquid-fueled first stage engines powered the 200-foot tall launcher into the nighttime sky.

Within 10 minutes, the three stages that make up the Proton "core vehicle" had all fired and dropped away, leaving the Breeze M and attached Nimiq 2 spacecraft on a suborbital trajectory. The upper stage then performed its first firing to achieve a stable, low-altitude parking orbit around the planet by T+22 minutes.

After orbiting for about 40 minutes, the stage re-ignited for a 27-minute burn to begin raising the orbit's high point to geostationary altitude 22,300 miles up. The Breeze M featured an additional propellant tank, which was emptied and subsequently jettisoned following the stage's second burn. With the tank separated, the stage immediately fired again for a five-minute burn.

Illustrations of Breeze M and cargo in the parking orbit (top) and separation of the fuel tank (bottom). Photos: ILS video/Spaceflight Now
The stage and cargo then settled into a five-hour coast through space to reach the position for the fourth and final Breeze M burn that reduced the inclination to Earth's equator and raised the orbit's low point.

At about T+6 hours and 53 minutes, Nimiq 2 was deployed into geosynchronous transfer orbit to complete the ninth Proton mission of 2002 and the second since Wednesday. It was the fifth commercial Proton flight performed this year under the control of International Launch Services -- the firm set up to market Proton and American Atlas rockets.

For ILS, it was a needed success in the wake of last month's failed launch of the European Astra 1K communications satellite. That flight used the older Khrunichev-built Proton K rocket with Energia's Block DM upper stage.

During the November 25 mission, the Block DM failed to ignite for its second of three planned firings, leaving the massive Astra 1K stranded in a low-altitude orbit. Controllers have since deorbited the satellite after declaring it a complete loss.

ILS has just one additional Block DM mission on the books as it looks to the Proton M/Breeze M vehicle for the future. The new rocket is more powerful and has a roomier nose cone, enabling larger cargos to be carried aloft. In all, the new launcher offers a 20 percent increase in performance over its predecessor.

"Proton is the workhorse of the Russian fleet, and Proton M with the Breeze M upper stage builds upon that heritage while featuring more lift capability, advanced materials and digital avionics," said ILS President Mark Albrecht.

The Proton K/Block DM on the left and Proton M/Breeze M on the right. Photos: Lockheed Martin
Russian officials say the Proton M is friendlier to the environment since its optimized engines leave less unused fuel in the booster. Any residual propellant is then vented in the atmosphere before the vehicle stages impact in Kazakhstan, reducing contamination in the landing area.

The rocket also sports upgraded digital control avionics that improves the accuracy of the launch.

The Breeze M stage, also made by Khrunichev, was designed to be relatively compact in size to free up more space in the rocket's nose cone for the payload. It was derived from the Breeze stage flown on the smaller Rockot vehicle.

For commercial communications satellite missions to geosynchronous transfer orbit, the Proton M/Breeze M can launch 12,120 pounds. The Proton K/Block DM is capable of carrying 9,590 pounds.

At 7,937 pounds, Nimiq 2 was well under the weight limit. Built by Lockheed Martin, the A2100AX-model craft is bound for geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the equator at 91 degrees West longitude.

After being tested in orbit, Ottawa-based Telesat Canada will operate the satellite to provide digital and interactive television channels, CD-quality music and Internet connectivity for subscribers of the Bell ExpressVu system. The spacecraft has 32 Ku-band transponders with 120 watt power amplifiers, a Ka-band payload and comes with a minimum service life of 12 years.

"Telesat's Nimiq 2 means Canadians will have more choice in information and entertainment, and exciting new services from coast to coast," said Larry Boisvert, Telesat's president and CEO. "More than 1.3 million Canadians already subscribe to direct-to-home satellite television using Nimiq 1, and with Nimiq 2 in service that number is sure to keep growing."

"(Nimiq 2) allows us to double our program-carrying capacity," said Tim McGee, Bell ExpressVu president. "It enables us to expand our programming lineup and diversify the services we provide to our customers -- Canadian TV viewers."

An artist's concept of Nimiq 2 in Earth orbit. Photo: ILS video/Spaceflight Now
Once in its operational location at 91 degrees West, the sister satellite Nimiq 1 currently at that spot will be relocated to 82 degrees to offer backup and expansion services.

"It will allow ExpressVu to eventually split the distribution of their signals between two satellites rather than having them all on one," said Boisvert. "The fact that not all of their eggs are in one basket is clearly going to be important to ExpressVu and to their viewing audience."

Nimiq 1 -- Canada's first direct broadcasting satellite -- was launched aboard a Proton in May 1999.

The name Nimiq was chosen from 36,000 submissions in a national contest in 1998. It is an Inuit word for any object or force that unites things or binds them together.

Nimiq 2 was originally slated to ride aboard the second Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket this month. But ILS switched the satellite to Proton as part of the firm's "mutual backup" capability between the two rocket families.

The move was prompted after ILS won the contract to launch the Greek Hellas Sat 2 communications satellite. Since early mission integration work had been completed to fly Nimiq 2 on Proton, ILS said the shuffling would ensure timely launches of both satellites.

ILS conducted 10 launches this year, five each on Atlas and Proton. The missions used the full spectrum of available rockets -- Atlas 2A, 2AS, 3 and 5, and Proton K and M.

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Flight data file
Vehicle: Proton M/Breeze M
Payload: Nimiq 2
Launch date: Dec. 29, 2002
Launch time: 2317 GMT (6:17 p.m. EST)
Launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Satellite broadcast: Galaxy 4R, Transponder 18, C-band

Pre-launch briefing
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Ground track - Map showing the ground track for the launch.

Orbit insertion - Illustration showing the orbits for this mission.

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