July 2, 2013
Another Setback For Russian Space Industry As Rocket Fails Moments After Lift Off
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, is facing another setback after it failed to launch a Proton-M rocket into space.
Seconds after the rocket lifted off from the launch pad it started to veer off its trajectory, falling apart in mid-air and erupting into a ball of flames. The Proton-M rocket was supposed to be taking three Russian Glonass-M navigation satellites into space.
"There was an accident during the Proton-M launch. The rocket fell and exploded on the territory of the launch site," a spokesman for Roscosmos said, according to Russian-owned media RIA Novosti.
The rocket launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 8:38 am local time and was broadcast on live television. Footage revealed the rocket rolling while flying a wobbly arc, beginning to disintegrate as it caught fire and then slammed into the ground in a large ball of flame and black smoke. The entire flight lasted 17 seconds.
According to Talgat Musabayev, the head of the Kazakh space agency, the rocket was carrying 600 tons of kerosene, heptyl and amyl. Officials said a cloud of poisonous smoke was created by the rocket's burning fuel and could spread across the local area. Roscosmos said the accident caused no damage or casualties, but the crash site was immediately cordoned off and residents in nearby towns were asked to stay indoors and keep their windows shut.
Vladimir Bozhko, head of the emergencies ministry in Kazakhstan, said earlier indications showed the accident was caused by a malfunction of a first-stage engine.
"Proton is our main workhorse for commercial use," space analyst Vadim Lukashevich told AFP. "Businessmen will now start thinking whether they should look for another carrier."
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a government commission to look into the cause of the crash and present a list of officials responsible for the $200 million accident. He has also asked Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to create a list of measures to tighten oversight of the space sector and prevent future accidents, according to RIA Novosti.
All future Proton-M rocket launches have been suspended until officials are able to determine the cause and fix it. The next launch was scheduled for July 20, which would have taken the Astra 2-T satellite into orbit.
This is the second unsuccessful launch of a Proton-M carrier rocket with Russia's Glonass positioning system on board in the last three years. During the first launch failure, three satellites fell into the ocean 900 miles off Honolulu, Hawaii.