SAN DIEGO, April 29, 1998 -International Launch Services (ILS) announced today that the Lockheed Martin Independent Failure Review Oversight Board report on the Proton launch failure of December 25, 1997, has been approved for release subject to certain limitations imposed by the Russian and U.S. governments.
“Following our policy regarding all launch anomalies, we formed this failure review oversight board with membership from Lockheed Martin, senior space experts, our customers and the underwriting community,” said Charles H. Lloyd, President – ILS. “The Board’s purpose was to review the results of the Russian investigation and the recommended corrective actions. We are pleased to announce that they have concurred with the Russian findings and the return-to-flight plan.”
The AsiaSat 3 satellite was launched on Proton from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 25, 1997. At approximately six hours, 20 minutes and 18 seconds into the flight, the second burn of the fourth stage Block DM engine failed to achieve the required conditions during the start sequence, and as a result the satellite did not reach the intended orbit.
After extensive data analysis, the Russian Commission determined that the physical root cause of the failure was use of a defective wear-reducing coating applied to the internal seals of the fourth stage engine high-pressure liquid oxygen pump. The defective seals caused an excessive volume of gaseous oxygen to leak into the liquid oxygen pump’s impeller chamber, inducing pump cavitation. The resulting reduced oxygen flow led to an anomalous propellant mix in the engine’s gas generator during the startup sequence, thereby triggering a preplanned, automatic emergency shutdown of the engine about one second after the engine start command.
A corrective action plan has been adopted by RSC Energia, builder of the Block DM, and its subcontractors to remove and replace the seals with defective coatings from the Block DM upper stages and to use uncoated seals in all new-build engines. This plan was implemented in March when the Russian Commission completed its investigation. The Proton launch vehicle returned to flight successfully on April 7 with the launch of seven Iridium satellites for Motorola. Khrunichev and Motorola contracted for the IIridium launches on Proton before the formation of the original joint venture with Lockheed.
The Board reported that the Russian Commission investigation into the Proton launch failure was a vigorous and exhaustive review conducted by the most senior levels of the Russian aerospace community.
The next ILS commercial Proton launch is scheduled for May 8 to launch the EchoStar IV satellite. The spacecraft is undergoing processing and checkout at the launch site in preparation for launch. Seven more launches will follow in the 1998 ILS commercial Proton manifest.
“Within the laws of the U.S. and Russian governments, we are briefing all of our customers and the insurance community on the findings of the investigation,” said Wilbur C. Trafton, ILS Executive Vice President and Vice-Chair of the Independent Failure Review Oversight Board. “The Proton is a robust launch vehicle with a record of reliability that has been analyzed in thorough detail as a result of last December’s failure. We are convinced that it will resume its excellent performance based on the corrective actions recommended by the Commission and already implemented by the Block DM manufacturer,” Trafton added.
The independent oversight board was chaired by Robert P. Di Nal, Vice President and Chief Engineer, Lockheed Martin Astronautics. Membership consisted of Trafton; Wayne Littles, Director-Marshall Space Flight Center, and NASA Chief Engineer (retired); Don Hart, President-Hart & Associates; Bob Morra, Vice President and Chief Engineer-Martin Marietta (retired); Don Kutyna, Vice President-Lockheed Martin Telecommunications Advanced Systems; plus representatives of current Proton customers and the insurance underwriting industry. The Russian Commission was headed by Nicolai A. Anfimov, First Deputy Director of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building, and included engineering and technical specialists from Khrunichev, Energia and other Russian organizations.
ILS was established in 1995 as a result of the merger of Lockheed and Martin Marietta to jointly market Atlas and the Russian-built Proton. ILS is owned by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services and Lockheed Khrunichev Energia International. Proton is built by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center at its factory near Moscow. The Block DM is built by RSC Energia in facilities outside of Moscow.