Sunday, May 17, 2015

Russian Proton-M Rocket Destroyed Over Siberia

Proton-M carrier rocket carrying Mexico's MexSat-1 communication satellite launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on May 16, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos

A Proton-M carrier rocket carrying Mexico's MexSat-1 communication satellite, malfunctioned and burnt up over Siberia minutes after the launch on Saturday. The launch took place at 01:47 a.m. EDT (11:47 a.m. local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. “The failure happened on the 497th second of the flight, at an altitude of 161 kilometers. The third stage, the booster vehicle and the spacecraft almost completely burned up in the atmosphere,” Russia’s Space Agency Roscosmos said in a statement. Jim Kramer, Vice-President of International Launch Services (ILS), which launched the rocket, told a news conference that early indications were that hardware from the launch re-entered Earth's atmosphere in far east Siberia, but that most of it had probably disintegrated. He added that all launches of carrier rockets of this type would now be suspended pending a Russian state-led investigation.

A Russian State Commission has begun the process of determining the reasons for the anomaly. ILS will release details when data becomes available. In parallel with the State Commission, ILS will form its own Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB). The FROB will review the commission’s final report and corrective action plan, in accord with U.S. and Russian government export control regulations.

Roscosmos said that the satellite and its launch were insured. Third party liability has been insured by the Russian side.

Earlier reports suggested that the third stage and the satellite fell to Earth over Eastern Siberia.

“Preliminary data indicate that the third stage and the Mexican satellite fell in the Chita region [of Russia]. The emergencies ministry has been notified,” Russian media quoted a source in space industry as saying.

Hazardous propellant from the failed launch vehicle may have leaked into the atmosphere.

“The toxic heptyl propellant used in propulsion systems of all three rocket stages and Briz-M upper stage might have leaked into the atmosphere or exploded at the possible crash site of the third stage and the Mexican satellite in Chita region,” another source suggested.

Some experts suppose that one of the causes of the malfunction could be the failure of the steering engine, the same glitch which caused the crash of the same launch vehicle exactly one year ago carrying what would have been Russia’s most advanced and powerful satellite, Express-AM4R.

“The analysis of the telemetry allows for supposing that there was a failure in one of the third stage’s steering engines. This is now considered as one of the main reasons,” Russian media is quoting one of the experts as saying.

The expert added that following the investigation into the cause of the crash last year, all the rocket equipment has undergone a thorough inspection.

Meanwhile, all launches of carrier rockets of this type would now be suspended.

Russia's space industry has been haunted by accidents which have tarnished its reputation.

In late April, Russia abandoned a $51 million mission to supply the International Space Station, (ISS), after an unmanned Progress M-27M cargo ship, carrying 2,722 kg of supplies, was unable to dock with the ISS because of problems.

In July 2013, a Proton carrier rocket carrying three navigation satellites worth around $200 million crashed shortly after lift-off from the Baikonur cosmodrome.

The Mexsat 1 satellite, called CENTENARIO in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, was part of an end-to-end satellite communications system that provides 3.5G full IP communications services for voice, data, video and internet access in remote areas to terminals across multiple platforms. This system consists of three satellites, two ground sites and associated network operations. It was Mexico’s next-generation satellite communications system.

The satellite was built for the Mexican government by Boeing Satellite Systems.

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