International Launch Services (ILS)

International Launch Services (ILS) is providing launch services for global satellite operators and offers a complete array of services and support, from contract signing through mission management and on-orbit delivery. ILS has exclusive rights to market Proton launch services for commercial and civil satellite programs worldwide. The commercial Proton is ILS Proton and has launched over 90 commercial rockets.

ILS was founded in 1995 and is a subsidiary of Khrunichev State Research & Production Space Center (Khrunichev) is headquartered in Reston, VA, near Washington, D.C. comprised of about 30 professionals and provides sales, marketing, mission management, launch operations, legal, licensing, and technical translation services. 

History of ILS

ILS was formed in 1995 as a private spaceflight partnership between Lockheed Martin, Khrunichev and RSC Energia. ILS initially co-marketed non-military launches on both the US Atlas and the Russian Proton launch vehicles.

With the Atlas V launch of the SES-1KR satellite on April 20, 2006, ILS had made 100 launches, 97 of which were successful.

In September 2006, Lockheed Martin announced its intention to sell its ownership interests in Lockheed Khrunichev Energia International, Inc. (LKEI) and ILS International Launch Services, Inc. (ILS) to Space Transport Inc. that was formed specifically for this transaction by Mario Lemme.

The transaction between Lockheed Martin and Space Transport Inc. was completed in October 2006. Lockheed Martin has retained all rights related to marketing the commercial Atlas vehicle and is continuing to offer Atlas launch services to the worldwide commercial market through its subsidiary, Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services, Inc. (LMCLS). ILS, no longer affiliated with Lockheed Martin, continued to market the Proton launch vehicles to commercial clients. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed and all Atlas V launches are now managed by United Launch Alliance (ULA), the joint-venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing (IDS/Defense, Space & Security/Launch Services) formed in December 2006, with all commercial Atlas V launches sub-contracted for ULA by LMCLS.

In May 2008, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, a Russian company, acquired all of Space Transport's interest and is now the majority shareholder in ILS. ILS will remain a US company and headquartered in Reston, Virginia where approximately 60 employees are based.

With the launch of EchoStar’s EchoStar-21 satellite, one of the vehicle’s heaviest Geotransfer payloads to date, the Proton-M rocket soared into the skies over the remote Baikonur Cosmodrome again on June 8th, 2017, ending a year-long grounding of the launch vehicle. It was the longest break in the rocket’s five-decade service life following trouble with the vehicle’s 2nd and 3rd stage engines that ended up requiring extensive refurbishment work. Major quality control issues related to the rocket’s engines that were discovered in the wake of a sporty mission when Proton last flew caused the technical problems. 

On June 9th, 2016 – almost a full year ago to the day – ILS’ Proton orbited Intelsat’s Intelsat-31 satellite with increased payload performance and encountered a premature shutdown of one of its four second stage engines that cut out around 9 seconds early and caused a shortfall in energy after the 3-stage rocket was done. Proton’s Briz-M Upper Stage luckily corrected the performance hit and Intelsat-31 reached its planned orbit, but future missions were grounded until answers for the premature shutdown could be found.

ILS struggled to sell Proton launches against a backdrop of past vehicle failures and increased competition in the US, Europe and Asia. ILS’ Proton averaged around 9 launches a year from 2008 to 2018, but in 2018 Proton launched only twice, neither of which was an ILS mission.

On April 12th2019 Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of Russian State Space Company Roskosmos, took over control of ILS to compete with SpaceX' very much cheaper reusable Falcon 9 series.Glavkosmos already had GK Launch Services under its umbrella, a company established by Glavkosmos and International Space Company Kosmotras. GK Launch Services operates the Soyuz-2 commercial launch vehicle from the Russian spaceports, Vostochny, Baikonur and Plesetsk.

Launch facilities

ILS conduct launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazachstan approximately 2,100 km (1,300 miles) southeast of Moscow. The facility was created in 1955 and is one of the Russian Federation's two major space launch complexes. Baikonur has been the launch site for Soviet, and later Russian, human spaceflight programs, geostationary satellites launches and scientific missions to the moon and planets and is a large Y-shaped complex that extends about 160km (100 miles) by 88km (55 miles). On 2 June 2015, Baikonur celebrated its 60th year anniversary.

The vehicle processing and launch areas are connected to each other and to the city of Baikonur by 470km (290 mi) of wide-gauge railroad lines. The rail system is the principal mode of transportation. Rockets are carried from their vehicle assembly buildings to their launch pads horizontally on railcars and erected onto the launch pad.

Two launch pads are available for commercial Proton missions. Launch vehicle and spacecraft time on pad is five days.

The spacecraft is transported to the Baikonur Cosmodrome by air and is offloaded at the on-site Yubileiny Airfield. It is then transported to the state-of-the-art processing facility in Area 92 for testing, fueling, mating to the Breeze M Upper Stage and encapsulation with the payload fairing.

Launch Vehicles

ILS is using the Proton launch system for both commercial and Russian government space launches. The first Proton rocket was launched in 1965. Modern versions of the launch system are still in use as of 2016, making it one of the most successful heavy boosters in the history of spaceflight.

All Protons are built at the Khrunichev State Research & Production Space Center plant in Moscow and transported to the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch facility and brought to the launch pad horizontally and raised into vertical position for launch.

The names of recurring payloads became associated with the Proton. The moniker "Proton" originates from a series of similarly named scientific satellites, which were among the rocket's first payloads.

Launch capacity to low Earth orbit is about 22.8 tonnes (50,000 lbs). Geostationary transfer capacity is about 6,150 kgs (13,560 lb). The Proton rocket will retire before 2030.

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