Astra 2G PosterPreparations for the November 28 launch of the Astra 2G satellite aboard a Russian Proton rocket have been suspended in the face of persistent questions over whether Proton’s previous launch was as successful as claimed, industry officials said.

The Astra 2G telecommunications satellite, owned by SES of Luxembourg, was scheduled to start its planned fueling at Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in preparation for a Nov. 28 liftoff.

The fueling has been put into question, officials said, as insurance underwriters involved in the Astra 2G launch policy continue to raise issues about what happened during the Oct. 22 launch of a Russian telecommunications satellite.

“Underwriters’ faith in Russian hardware in general, and in Proton in particular, has been shaken,” one insurance official said. “I mean, after all, the last launch dropped the satellite 2,500 kilometers short of its destination.”

The problem with this assessment is that, to date, none of the principals that might be expected to confirm the underperformance of the Proton Breeze-M upper stage have done so. Soon after the Oct. 22 launch, Proton builder Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow shipped the next Breeze-M to the Baikonur spaceport to begin preparing the Astra 2G launch.

Proton’s commercial marketer, International Launch Services of Reston, Virginia, said that, based on the information it had, the launch was nominal. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, which in the past has been forthright about launch failures, said the Express-AM6 satellite was separated “in accordance with the flight plan.” But Roscosmos added that the drop-off point was “somewhat different than planned.”

ISS Reshetnev, the satellite’s builder, made no mention of a bad orbit, saying the satellite is in good health. But Reshetnev did say the satellite would not be in its final position until July. A previous statement from the company had said operations would start in early 2015.

The Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC), which owns the satellite, also said it is healthy and expected to operate for the planned 15 years, but the company declined to say whether its in-service date of July was far later than planned.

SES and Inmarsat have both said that, as far as they are concerned, the launch was OK and ILS will proceed with its scheduled launches. Inmarsat had penciled in a late-January date for the first of the two Global Xpress satellites it has remaining in the ILS backlog. The second launch would occur in the spring in this scenario.

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By Expat