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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 March 2008, 11:36 GMT
Spacecraft left short by Proton
AMC-14 (ILS)
The owners must now decide what to do with their satellite
A Russian Proton rocket has failed to place a US telecommunications satellite in the correct orbit.

The AMC-14 spacecraft, owned by SES Americom, was supposed to have been put 36,000km above the Earth but only got to 28,000km, launch officials say.

It is understood the Proton's Breeze-M upper-stage failed to operate properly.

The failure will be a source of concern to the satellite industry which has now seen a Proton fail three times in three years - the last in September 2007.

There is a lengthening backlog of commercial payloads waiting for a ride into space.

This has not been helped by the extended lay-off of a Proton competitor known as Sea Launch, which lofts satellites from a converted oil platform in the Pacific.

The Sea Launch vehicle has itself only just returned to service after a spectacular explosion on lift-off a year ago.

The Proton launched from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome at 1118 GMT on Saturday.

Its Breeze-M upper stage, used to put the satellite on the correct geostationary transfer orbit, is reported to have failed on the second of its burns.

Russian space officials were quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the satellite could use its own propulsion system to reach the required orbit.

Even if this is possible, it would compromise the spacecraft's lifetime as the onboard fuel would not then be available for later orbital corrections.

Protons are operated by a US-Russian consortium known as International Launch Services.

The AMC-14 was due to offer satellite TV to homes in North America.

A Proton is due to launch shortly the UK-based Inmarsat company's I4-F3 satellite. Weighing more than 5,900kg, the spacecraft will be one of the heaviest commercial payloads to date for the Russian rocket.

Inmarsat will use the satellite to extend its BGAN mobile broadband services.



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