Proton M/Briz M
Launch vehicle Proton M/Briz M
Launch site Baikonur, Kazakhstan
Date/Time 2008-03-14 23:18 UTC
Description Upper stage failure
Cause Under investigation
Payload AMC 14
Desired orbit 5,032 km x 35,768 km x 21.4 degrees geostationary transfer orbit

SES Americom's AMC-14 satellite was left in a useless orbit after the failure of the Proton M's Briz M upper stage.

The Russian State Commission investigating the failure has traced the cause to the rupture of the gas duct between the gas generator and the propellant pump turbine in the Briz M main engine.

This led to the Briz M upper stage engine shutting down two minutes before the end of the second Briz M burn on 15 March. As a precaution, the AMC-14 satellite payload was released into a lower-than-planned orbit. Owner SES Americom announced that it is declaring AMC-14 a total loss. The mission was managed by International Launch Services (ILS), which markets commercial missions on the Proton vehicle.

The Russian investigative commission said that the most probable cause of the gas duct rupture was owing to the combined effects of duct wall erosion, high temperatures and prolonged low frequency pressure fluctuation in the duct. The Commission recommended corrective actions to comprehensively address each of the contributing factors.

Khrunichev, which manufactures both the Proton three-stage booster and the Briz M upper stage, was further directed to perform corrective action to improve the reliability of the Briz M main engine. These corrective actions must be taken before the Briz M can be returned to flight, according to Russian procedure.

SES Americom in April 2008 declared to insurers that AMC 14 is considered a total loss, owing to a lack of viable options to reposition the satellite to its proper geostationary orbit. A rescue mission using a lunar flyby (similar to that of AsiaSat 3 in 1998) was reportedly prevented by Boeing, which holds a controversial U.S. Patent describing such manoeuvres.

"SES and Lockheed Martin have carefully examined all the available options for repositioning this satellite into its intended geostationary orbit," said Edward Horowitz, President and CEO of SES Americom. "Unfortunately, none of those options would allow effective use of the spacecraft. The various repositioning scenarios presented carry unacceptable risks, and would result in a severely shortened life of the satellite. Therefore, we have no choice but to claim a total loss of the satellite with our insurers."

Mark Rigolle, Chief Financial Officer of SES, said that the company "is fully insured for its investment ... We expect to receive the insurance proceeds of approximately US$150 million in the next few months, thereby enhancing our cash position."

See also:

Last updated: 30 April 2008

Launch Failures Chronology