Russia loses $200 million satellites
ALMATY, Kazakhstan - Reuters
A combination photograph shows still frames taken from a video of the Russian Proton-M booster rocket. REUTERS photoA Russian rocket carrying three navigation satellites worth around $200 million crashed shortly after lift-off from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan on July 2 after its engines suddenly switched off.
The accident led to a large spill of heptyl, a highly toxic rocket propellant, but there were no reports of casualties or of any immediate threat to nearby settlements.
State-run Rossiya-24 television showed footage of the Proton-M booster rocket veering off course seconds after take-off. It flew horizontally and began to come apart in flames, crashing in a ball of fire near the launch pad.
Russian Prime Minster Dmitry Medvedev, who has said that Russia has lost 10 satellites in seven failed launches in just over one year, ordered tighter controls put in place to avoid more embarrassing mishaps, his spokeswoman told Interfax.
The crash, which echoes the costly loss of three navigation satellites in 2010, will further damage the reputation of Russia’s once-pioneering space program, cause delays in launches and threaten its hold on some 40 percent of the market for space launches.
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said the accident had been caused by the emergency switch-off of the rocket’s engines 17 seconds into the flight. The shutdown could have been caused by a problem with the engine or the guidance system, the state-run RIA news agency reported.
The rocket contained 172 tons of highly toxic heptyl propellant, Kazakh Emergencies Minister Vladimir Bozhko told an emergency government meeting.
Talgat Musabayev, head of Kazakhstan’s space agency Kazcosmos, said nitric oxide - a product of burning heptyl - was much less toxic for humans. He said it was raining in the area, so toxic clouds would probably not reach the town of Baikonur some 60 kilometers away. However, the authorities instructed locals to stay at home and not to open windows, and ordered to close shops and public catering, said Kazakh Interior Minister Kalmukhambet Kasymov.
The estimated loss from the three satellites, meant for the trouble Glonass satellite navigation system, was about $200 million, Rossiya-24 reported.