Russian satellite falls back to Earth after launch

23rd December 2011, Comments 0 comments

A Russian satellite fell back to Earth over Siberia after its launch on Friday, in the latest setback for Russia's space programme following a string of failures in the last year.

"The satellite failed to go into its orbit. A state commission will investigate the causes of the accident," the spokesman of Russia's space forces Alexei Zolotukhin told the Interfax news agency.

The Meridian communications satellite "fell to the territory of Siberia" after its launch from the Plesetsk cosmodrome due to a third stage rocket failure, the Interfax news agency said, quoting a space industry source.

The RIA Novosti agency said it had come down over the region of the western Siberian town of Tobolsk although it was not clear if the satellite had made contact with the ground or burned up in the atmosphere.

It was the fifth launch of a satellite from the Meridian series which have dual civilian and military use and are aimed at providing communications for ships in the Arctic as well as Russia's remote Siberia and Far East regions.

The satellite had been launched by a Soyuz-2.1B rocket, part of the family of Soyuz rockets that has been the backbone of Moscow's space programme for decades and still launches humans to space.

The satellite was supposed to have separated from the rocket about nine minutes after its launch, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

But the carrier rocket experienced undisclosed problems even before the separation attempt, meaning that it never reached the low Earth orbit.

"According to initial data, the carrier rocket's failure occurred prior to the orbiter's separation from the carrier rocket's third stage," an unnamed source told the news agency.

The loss of the Meridian satellite caps a disastrous 12 months for Russia that has already seen it lose three navigation satellites, an advanced military satellite, a telecommunications satellite, a supply ship and a probe for Mars.

Its image was severely tarnished with the loss of the Progress supply ship, which crashed into Siberia shortly after launch in August for the International Space Station (ISS).

Russia has also acknowledged the almost certain loss of its Phobos-Grunt probe for Mars's largest moon, which was launched on November 9 but has failed to head out of Earth's orbit on its course to the Red Planet.

© 2011 AFP

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