Proton failure forces Inmarsat to delay Global Xpress launch

DetailsEditor | 19 May 2015

The ramifications of the catastrophic failure on 16 May of a Proton Breeze M rocket are now being seen, with satellite provider Inmarsat postponing the launch of its I-5 F3 craft.

According to ILS, who managed the launch of the ill-fated satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Proton Breeze M rocket carrying a Centenario satellite suffered a disabling anomaly during the operation of the third stage, approximately eight minutes after lift-off, resulting in the loss of the satellite and rocket.

Commenting somewhat euphemistically about this latest incident, Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce described the failed Proton launch as "extremely unfortunate". Remarking on what this would mean for the planned ILS launch of Inmarsat-5 F3, he said: "This incident involving a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome ... will inevitably delay our launch plans for our third Global Xpress satellite. This is the third time our Global Xpress programme has suffered launch delays because of Proton launch failures. Although in the past, Proton has returned to flight within a few months of a launch failure, it will not be possible to determine the length of the delay in the launch of I-5 F3 until the cause of the Centenario launch failure is established. Customers are understandably anxious to see the delivery of GX services on a global basis, and as soon as we have sufficient information to ascertain the new launch date for I-5 F3, we will make the information public, as well as comment further on the impact of the delayed launch of I-5 F3.

Attempting to reassure customers, Pearce added that the delay in the launch of Inmarsat-5 F3 is currently expected to have a small negative effect on 2015 revenue and earnings. There was, he insisted, continued interest in GX services across customer constituencies and the company had been reassured that the next generation I-5 F4 was currently under construction by Boeing in California, and remained on schedule for completion in mid-2016, this time with a potential SpaceX launch in the second half of 2016. This, explained Pearce, would provide Inmarsat with "significant mission assurance in the case of any protracted delays in Proton's return to flight, or a failed launch of I-5 F3".

Whilst the full financial impact of the failed Proton mission could not as yet be calculated accurately, and indeed Inmarsat announced that it was suspending its guidance of an 8-12% CAGR in wholesale MSS revenues over 2014-16, the company stressed that its expectation for GX to deliver no less than $500 million of additional revenues by the fifth anniversary of the global launch of commercial GX services and the related revenue growth profile were currently not changed by this delay.