The Russian Yamal 402 communications satellite has recovered itself to its planned operational position in geostationary Earth orbit, after using its own fuel and propulsion system in a series of burns following its Proton M launch undershoot on 8 December.

After what appeared to be a successful Proton M launch from the Baikonur launch site, near Tyuratam in Kazakhstan, the Proton M's Breeze M (Briz M) upper stage had a malfunction during its planned fourth and final burn which caused it to end approximately four minutes early, stranding Yamal 402 in an incorrect transfer orbit.

The 4,463kg (9,840lb) satellite was built by Thales Alenia Space, using its Spacebus 4000 C3 design for the Russian satellite operator Gazprom Space Systems, and was expected to operate for a minimum of 15 years.

Insured up to a value of €310 million ($406 million), the satellite is carrying a large fuel reserve, but life-loss is expected to be four years, and insurance sources say a claim for partial loss is likely.

A Russian State Commission has been set up to determine reasons behind the launch anomaly. The commercial launch marketing arm of Khrunichev - International Launch Services - will also form its own failure review oversight board to define a corrective action plan for future launches once the fault is identified.

Questions remain over the Proton M launch vehicle's reliability and quality control. The Proton M's Breeze M upper stage has had a number of failures in recent years. In August, two communications spacecraft - Telkom 3 and Express MD2 - were left stranded in a useless orbit after an upper-stage engine failure.

The Russian investigating commission found the failure was caused by a component production fault. In August 2011, a Proton M Breeze M upper stage put its Express AM4 satellite payload into a useless orbit after an orientation fault.

Source: Flight International