PARIS — Commercial launch-service provider International Launch Services (ILS), which has dealt with more setbacks in recent years than the rest of the industry combined, is re-emerging as an entity more closely bound to Russia’s Roscosmos space agency and the agency’s Glavkosmos.
U.S.-based ILS said Glavkosmos will now oversee both ILS and GK Launch Services, which has Russian government license to market the Soyuz-2 rocket outside Russia.
“Glavkosmos is pleased to welcome ILS under our operating umbrella with their quarter-century of commercial launch experience,” Glavkosmos General Director Dmitry Loskutov said in an April 12 statement.
“Through tighter and more integrated administration of launch services, we will be able to provide a better product, more services, and at a price responsive to customers’ needs. This is part of our industry’s path back to being a major contributor in global commercial space launch.”
ILS has been marketing Russia’s heavy-lift Proton rocket since the 1990s and at one time constituted one-half of a de-facto market duopoly, with Europe’s Arianespace, for launching commercial telecommunications satellites to geostationary orbit.
Then came a long slide — a series of launch failures due to poor quality control; the arrival of SpaceX as a commercial alternative; the defection of once-supportive insurance underwriters, making Proton much more costly than the Ariane 5 or the SpaceX Falcon 9 to insure; political indecision in Moscow, leading to the Roscosmos decision to cancel a lighter, more commercially relevant variant called Proton Medium; and the collapse of the commercial market for heavy geostationary-orbit satellites.
ILS President Kirk Pysher, who has been with the company through all this, said the Glavkosmos-linked ILS is able to cut launch prices to regain its competitive position.
“ILS is redoubling its commitment… first and foremost by bringing pricing squarely in line with our customer needs,” Pysher said in an April 12 statement. The statement said ILS has been able to cut its prices following cost savings in quality-improvement initiatives “coupled with significantly lower production and launch-site costs” in association with Glavkosmos, Roscosmos and Proton’s prime contractor, Khrunichev Space Center.
Soyuz-2 is a medium-lift vehicle; Proton is heavy-lift. If GK Launch Services can keep costs down, Soyuz may be able to find a footing in the market for smaller satellites, to lower orbits, despite the large number of startup rockets looking at the same market.
For Proton, the way forward is less obvious. The geostationary-orbit market remains in slump, putting pressure on SpaceX and Arianespace despite their solid market footing.
In addition to marketing Proton, ILS, as the North American marketing arm for Glavkosmos, will sell other space-related services and equipment, ILS said.
In an April 12 statement, GK Launch Services said of the new ILS relationship:
“Today’s market trend includes architecting satellite constellations in different types of orbits, and we believe that such a partnership can offer value-added benefits and flexibility to our customers. The Soyuz-2 launch services will continue to be provided by GK, and Proton-M launch services by ILS. Glavkosmos will coordinate and support the activities of the launch operators ILS and GK Launch Services.”