Russia loses Mexican satellite after rocket failure

16th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russia's space agency said Saturday that a rocket carrying a Mexican telecommunications satellite had suffered an "emergency situation" on launch, leading to its loss.

The space agency, Roscosmos, said in a brief statement that a Proton-M rocket carrying a Mexican satellite had suffered a problem on launch.

"An emergency situation took place when the Proton-M rocket launched with a MexSat-1 satellite. The reasons are being identified," Roscosmos space agency said in a statement.

The failure came just hours after a separate glitch in which a Russian Progress spacecraft docked to the ISS failed to switch on its engines on command from mission control in a planned manoeuvre to shift the ISS into a higher orbit.

Russia's space programme has experienced a troubling number of accidents in recent years and the latest incidents expose its failure to resolve problems with workhorse technology.

The latest problems come just two weeks after a supply ship heading to the ISS lost communications and crashed to Earth, prompting delays in the ferrying of astronauts to and from the orbiting station.

The latest satellite failure was yet more bad news for Russia's troubled space industry, which earns millions of dollars from the launches of Western and Asian commercial satellites.

A source in the space agency told RIA Novosti state news agency that the Proton rocket lost communications with the ground about a minute before the satellite was supposed to separate from the third stage rocket.

The satellite failed to separate from the rocket and would be unable to function.

"The Mexican satellite is lost. Launches of rockets of the Proton type will be grounded until the reason is identified," the source added.

The launch took place at 8:47 am Moscow time (0547 GMT) from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

- Rocket fell over Siberia -

Fragments of the carrier rocket, which contained several tons of toxic fuel, fell over Siberia's Chita region, but most likely burnt up in the atmosphere, space industry sources said.

"According to confirmed data, the third state of the Proton-M rocket carrier with the Briz-M upper stage and the Mexican satellite fell on Chita region," a source told Interfax news agency.

"The third stage of the Proton-M with the upper-stage fell from a height of around 160 kilometres. That should be enough for all the fragments to burn up in the atmosphere," another source told TASS news agency.

The Proton-M carrier rocket is Russia's main workhorse used for commercial satellite launches, but in recent years has suffered a litany of failures and has been repeatedly grounded.

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.

The rocket failure took place hours after the engines of a Progress M-262M spacecraft docked to the International Space Station failed to switch on at the scheduled time of around 4 am Moscow time (0100 GMT) to correct its orbit, the space agency said.

"The reasons are being studied by specialists at the flight control centre. Roscosmos will give out further information when it is available."

A space industry source told RIA Novosti that a second attempt to switch on the Progress's engines might be made on Monday unless checks found "serious problems."

The head of Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, convened a meeting to hear detailed reports on both the accidents, a source told TASS news agency.

The problems come after a major incident in which an unmanned Progress supply ship taking cargo to the ISS lost contact with Earth shortly after launch on April 28 and later plunged and burnt up in the atmosphere on May 8.

The accident has caused Roscosmos to postpone the return of three astronauts on the ISS who were due to return to Earth Friday until June, while the next manned launch has also been delayed.

A previous Progress supply ship crashed in Siberia shortly after launch in 2011.

Since the mothballing of the US Space Shuttle programme, Moscow has had a monopoly on sending astronauts to the ISS from its Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

© 2015 AFP

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