Another Soyuz Launch Fails, Communications Satellite Lost
December 24, 2011

Another Soyuz Launch Fails, Communications Satellite Lost

The Russian space program suffered yet another setback on Friday after a Soyuz-2 vehicle failed to put a communications satellite into orbit, resulting in debris from the probe crashing back to Earth in a Siberian town located roughly 1,400 miles from Moscow.

According to BBC News Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos, the Soyuz 2.1b (described by Amos as the most modern form of the venerable Russian spaceship) launched at 16:08 Moscow time from the Plesetsk spaceport in northern Russia.

It was carrying a Meridian-5 satellite designed to provide communications between aircraft, ships and ground stations near the coast. Debris from the satellite is believed to have fallen back to earth near the town of Tobolsk, which is located in western Siberia.

Sources told Reuters that the accident was blamed on the carrier rocket's failure. The unspecified failure occurred roughly seven minutes after takeoff, Russian media sources including RIA Novosti reportedly told the BBC. According to Reuters, industry sources are claiming that the incident could delay the launch of the Progress cargo craft, currently set for next month.

Russian Aerospace Forces spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin told Xinhua news agency reporters that the malfunction is believed to have occurred "in the off-normal work of the propulsion unit of the third stage of the launch vehicle," and that an investigation into the accident had already begun. No casualties or damages had been reported, sources told the Chinese media organization.

Friday's incident was the latest in a line of setbacks suffered by the Russian space program during the past year. In December 2010, three Glonass navigation system satellites veered off course and wound up crashing into the Pacific Ocean, cause delays in the nation's attempts to built a GPS rival and costing the space agency approximately $160 million, according to Reuters.

In August, the failure of a Soyuz rocket set to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) resulted in Roscosmos official temporarily suspending space flights.

About a week before that, a Proton vehicle failed to place another communication satellite into orbit, and a third-such incident occurred back in February, and last month, officials lost contact with a probe that had been scheduled to fly to Phobos in order to study the Mars moon.

The loss of the Meridian Friday "confirms that the (space) sector is in crisis," Roscosmos head of the Vladimir Popofkin told the ITAR-TASS news agency, according to the AFP's Stuart Williams.

"We must resolve this situation and give way to the youth," he added in comments quotes by the Xinhua news agency. "Perhaps it's time for reshuffle."


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