On October 10, the valiant Russian launcher signed its 18th success in a row... but only its first commercial mission of the past two years.
International Launch Services, the U.S. service company responsible for the commercial operation of the Russian launch vehicle Proton, had not launched a commercial satellite since September 2017.
On 9 October at 10:17 UTC, a Proton-M / Breeze-M took off from the Baikonur cosmodrome (Kazakhstan) with the telecommunications satellite Eutelsat 5 West B of the French operator Eutelsat (on high position), as well as Northrop Grumman's space tug Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1), which will reach the U.S. operator Intelsat satellite Intelsat 601 within three months and enable it to operate for another five years.
The marathon mission, which aimed at a super-synchronous transfer orbit, enabled the release of the MEV-1 after 15 hours and 36 minutes of flight, then that of Eutelsat 5WB 18 minutes later.
This is the first time Proton made a double launch as part of a commercial launch.
It was also the 422nd flight of a Proton, its 18th consecutive success, and the 97th ILS mission.
While the success of the mission was confirmed by Eutelsat on the morning of October 10, the Russian agency Glavcosmos (which absorbed ILS last April) announced the resignation of Kirk Pysher, president of ILS.
This announcement is certainly related to the glaring lack of activity and the absence of new orders for the company during the last two years, the next launching prospects not being expected before 2021.
ILS currently only has Eutelsat and Intelsat options for Proton flights and only one reservation on the light launcher Angara 1.2 (for the South Korean Earth Observation Satellite Kompsat 6).
ILS was once the most serious competitor of Arianespace.