The commercial launch provider, International Launch Services (ILS), has announced a multi-launch agreement with the international communications satellite operator, Intelsat. The deal covers the purchase of five ILS Proton launches from now until 2023, which will be made from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, near Tyuratam in Kazakhstan. The satellites for these launches have yet to be designated.
The agreement is designed to provide Intelsat with increased flexibility in its fleet management and the necessary launch schedule assurance. The Proton Breeze M launch vehicles are manufactured by Khrunichev, which is the majority owner of ILS.
Comment by David Todd: There are three major launch providers offering commercial launches. While the two main players, Arianespace and SpaceX, have gained many launch orders, they sometimes have difficulty in achieving their launches on time. So, having Proton available as a third launch service makes sense for some operators. Arianespace currently offers its expensive but reliable Ariane 5 ECA launch vehicle on the basis of shared launches. But its difficulty in gaining smaller passengers to pair up with larger communications satellites is affecting the schedule and even causing some players to pay significantly more for a dedicated launch just to ensure a launch on time.
Likewise, while SpaceX is the most competitive on price SpaceX, it appears to have “bitten off more than it can chew” and the over-full launch schedule is beset by delays. This problem has recently been aggravated by a slow return to flight following the latest launch failure. The core of a Proton M is basically a good rocket, although it has underperformed in terms of its Breeze M upper stage reliability. However, Proton has recently improved its competitiveness on launch cost, mainly thanks to a benign rouble/dollar exchange rate.