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Rocket failure sparks renewed fears for GX launch Featured

Global Xpress launch Global Xpress launch ILS

Inmarsat has admitted that a delay in the launch schedule for its two remaining Global Xpress satellites is now likely, following the failure of an unrelated launch using the Proton launch vehicle on Friday.

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The Russian Proton rocket is the same launch vehicle that was scheduled to launch Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellites in two separate launches later this year, and Friday’s failure represents the fourth launch failure in less than two years for the Proton programme.

A part of the Proton-M launch vehicle encountered an “emergency situation” and the Express AM4R satellite was not placed into orbit, said the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

A commission has been set up to analyse telemetry data and find out the cause of the problem, Roscosmos added in a press release.

The mishap happened on Friday at 01:42 am Moscow time, shortly after the Proton rocket took off from the Baikonour Cosmodrome, which Russia leases from Kazakhstan.

In a statement on Friday afternoon, Inmarsat said that: “The cause of the failure will be assessed by a process known as the Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB) and a report of its findings is expected to be completed in the next two months.”

“While the conclusions of the FROB will be important in determining the impact on our launch schedule, we believe a delay in the planned launch of both the Inmarsat-5 F2 and F3 is now likely, which would delay the launch of GX services on a global basis.”

“However, the start of commercial GX services on a regional basis using F1 (and F2 in due course), as well as existing customer commitments to purchase GX services, will not be impacted by any delay in global service availability.”

The company added that its existing L-band business will remain unaffected by any GX launch delay.

Fears of this delay in the GX programme were followed by a drop of approximately 3.5 per cent in Inmarsat’s share price in early trading on Friday morning, mirroring a similar fall in the share price in summer 2013 when another Proton M rocket carrying three Glonass satellites exploded about ten seconds after lift-off.

However, Monday trading has seen a recovery in the stock, with shares even climbing above their Thursday closing price (prior to the Proton failure) in early trading.

The Proton M rocket has had a troubled history. In addition to the summer 2013 failure, in August 2012 a mission to launch Indonesian and Russian telecommunication satellites failed to deliver them into orbit, while a December 2012 launch of another Russian satellite on Proton was hampered by premature separation of the satellite from the rocket.

The first satellite in the Global Xpress (GX) constellation was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 8th 2013 and reached its on-station location at 63 degrees East on January 26th 2014.

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