Russia grounds rockets after launch failure

Aug 23, 2011 by Dmitry Zaks
A Proton-M rocket is transported to the launch pad in the Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome, 2010. Russia temporarily grounded its workhorse Proton-M carrier rockets after the latest in a string of launch mishaps put a prized telecommunications satellite into the wrong orbit.

Russia on Tuesday grounded its workhorse Proton-M rockets after the latest in a string of launch mishaps put a prized telecommunications satellite into the wrong orbit.

Thursday's accident has already reportedly prompted an angry Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to cancel a government meeting on space issues and marks another blow to an industry reeling from five failed missions in nine months.

The scale of Russia's current space problems was underscored when the first discovery of the missing craft was reported by observers at NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), the bi-national US and Canadian command that was the Soviets' main rival during the Cold War.

The Federal Space Agency () said the "temporary" grounding was caused by the malfunction during Thursday's launch of an upper booster that Russia also uses in military satellite missions.

"The preparation of Proton-M carrier and Briz-M upper stage is temporarily suspended until the reasons for the Express-AM4 satellite's aborted ascent are learned," Roskosmos said in a statement.

An industry analyst said the delay will probably cover six starts through the end of November and may require the Proton-M developer to pay damages to private clients.

"This is an especially big problem for our commercial launches," said Moscow's Space News magazine editor Igor Marinin.

"It is serious because no one knows how long this will last or how much money it will cost to solve," Marinin added.

The satellite lost by Roskosmos was billed by state media as one of Europe's largest and promised to provide along with secure government communications for Siberia and Russia's Far East.

Those programmes now face multiple-year delays and the Izvestia daily said Putin -- whose can-do image may spell his return to the presidency next year -- expressed his frustration by canceling a Monday meeting devoted to satellites.

Roskosmos said Tuesday that it had not given up on the craft entirely and was still trying to establish if it could be manoeuvred into the right orbit and its mission be saved.

Space insiders said this was highly unlikely.

"If this type of satellite does not come to life (in the first 24-hours) and deploy its solar batteries, then it turns into a lump of frozen metal," an unnamed space agency official told Izvestia.

Russia has been using Proton carriers since the Soviet era and has since been working on various upgrades that can expand and extend its use.

One of those modifications include a Briz-M upper stage that propels payloads into the more distant orbits used by some satellites.

The upper stage most recently failed during a February launch that also put a military satellite into the wrong orbit -- an accident that one Russian space official initially blamed on electromagnetic interference by a foreign state.

Russia has now cancelled a military satellite launch scheduled for August 31.

But officials stressed that the grounding will not affect Friday's planned launch of a Glonass communications satellite from Russia's northern Plesetsk centre on Soyuz rocket.

A Proton-M failure prompted Russia to lose three of the advanced Glonass satellites last year in a launch conducted from the Baikonur pad in Kazakhstan.

Explore further: Bad weather delays SpaceX launch with 3-D printer

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Russia launches telecom satellite

Nov 18, 2007

The Russian space agency Sunday launched a telecommunications satellite into orbit from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan.

Russia loses military satellite: reports

Feb 01, 2011

Russia's top military and space official launched a search Tuesday for a missing military satellite that apparently was put into the wrong orbit shortly after its launch.

Recommended for you

Internet moguls Musk, Bezos shake up US space race

2 hours ago

The space race to end America's reliance on Russia escalated this week with a multibillion dollar NASA award for SpaceX's Elon Musk and an unexpected joint venture for Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos.

Winter in the southern uplands of Mars

23 hours ago

Over billions of years, the southern uplands of Mars have been pockmarked by numerous impact features, which are often so closely packed that they overlap. One such feature is Hooke crater, shown in this ...

Five facts about NASA's ISS-RapidScat

23 hours ago

NASA's ISS-RapidScat mission will observe ocean wind speed and direction over most of the globe, bringing a new eye on tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons. Here are five fast facts about the mission.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Temple
5 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2011
Government monopolies of spacecraft and launch vehicles are slowly dying under their own bloated weight.

I'm looking forward to the very near future of privatized space-launch providers. I'm also optimistic that this new competition will be good for those government-funded space agencies. I hope that, after a period of turmoil, we will see Nasa, ESA, and Roskosmos reborn, cooperatively working toward exploratory leaps forward.