Russian Proton-M Rocket Suffers Booster Failure, Two Satellites Lost
August 8, 2012

Russian Proton-M Rocket Suffers Booster Failure, Two Satellites Lost

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Russian space agency Roscosmos has been dealt another major blow to its faltering space program after a Monday launch of its Proton-M rocket failed to lift two satellites into orbit.

The Telkom 3 satellite, belonging to PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia, and a Russian satellite -- Russian Express MD2 -- failed to reach orbit after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Monday night, due to a malfunction of the Briz-M booster on the rocket, according to Roscosmos. It said the Briz-M booster fired its engines on schedule but only burned for 7 of the 18 minutes needed to push the satellites into orbit.

Officials said the booster´s first stages worked fine, but the upper stage intended to give the satellites a final push into space switched off prematurely. The launch failure is the latest in a string of space mission failures including last year´s Progress re-supply vessel disaster that shut down manned missions to the International Space Station for nearly three months.

“The satellites can be considered lost,” Roscosmos spokeswoman Anna Vedishcheva said on Rossiya television. They are now stranded in a low orbit where they cannot be recovered.

The total loss of the two satellites is estimated at $100-$150 million, a source told Interfax news agency.

RIA Novosti reported that Roscosmos is planning to suspend future Proton-M rocket launches with the Briz-M booster, which is produced by Khrunichev Research and the State Production Center, until investigations into the matter are complete.

Slamet Riyadi, a spokesman for Telkom, said the company´s Telkom-3 satellite was meant to provide support for the firm´s two other satellites, Telkom-1 and Telkom-2, which were near the end of their mission life. Slamet noted Telkom-2, launched in 2005, still had some mission life left in it. Telkom-1 on the other hand, built in 1997, may not last much longer.

Communications and Information Ministry spokesman, Gatot S. Dewabroto, pointed out that despite the loss of the Telkom-3 satellite there should not be any telecommunication problems for the near future. Telkom has a number of other satellites in orbit that can handle the workload.

“They can still handle operations well,” he told Mariel Grazella at the Jakarta Post, adding that the company needed a “Plan B” following the incident. However, he pointed out that the ministry would not become involved in proceedings between the company and its Russian counterparts following the failure to launch. “This is strictly a business-to-business affair.”

Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos, has ordered the establishment of quality inspection teams at plants that produce rocket parts. These inspectors have the authority to stop production if quality standards are not being met.

Igor Marinin, the editor of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki monthly magazine, said despite the latest malfunction, the Proton-M rocket is considered a solid investment among global customers. The rocket has been the main cash-cow for the space industry since the 1990s. “Proton is a very good and solid design.”