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Russian Proton rocket fails to put satellites into orbit

Dr Amanda Doyle, Feature writer
Aug 8, 2012, 7:00 UTC

Sen—An unmanned Russian rocket failed to deliver two communications satellites to their proposed orbit when problems with a booster occurred after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday.

According to the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, the Britz-M secondary booster module of the Proton-M rocket shut down before it was supposed to. The booster fired the engine on schedule during the third burn, but only burned for seven seconds of the scheduled eighteen minutes and five seconds needed to achieve the desired orbit.

There is no hope that the satellites will separate from the booster and reach the orbit they were supposed to. The rocket carried the Indonesian Telkom-3, which was manufactured by Russia’s ISS-Reshetnev and was the first that Indonesia has bought from Russia. The satellite included communications equipment that was constructed by Thales Alenia Space, a French-led satellite company.

The second communications satellite was owned by the Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC) and called Express MD2. The satellite was constructed by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre.

All Proton rocket launches are currently suspended until this failure has been thoroughly investigated.

Russia is currently responsible for nearly half of space launches around the world, and this is yet another blow to add to the list of recent failures that has unfortunately plagued Russia’s space program. The same problem with a booster occurred last year when the Express AM-4 satellite failed to reach orbit, at a cost of £170 million. Express AM-4 drifted in an unintended orbit for a few months until it landed in the Pacific Ocean during a controlled descent.

In addition, the unsuccessful Phobos Grunt mission crash landed on Earth two months its launch in November 2011. The proposed sample return mission to Mars’ moon Phobos suffered problems during the launch phase that left it in a decaying low Earth orbit.

The stranded satellites and booster are now classed as space debris, and will be monitored to track their positions. They currently pose no threat to International Space Station.