A Russian Proton-M rocket carrying the country's most advanced satellite to date, the Express-AM4R, crashed near Kazakhstan about nine minutes after lift-off. The reason for the catastrophic malfunction is still not known.
An early theory is that the rocket experienced a failure in one of the third stage's steering engines.
"The exact cause is hard to establish immediately," said Oleg Ostapenko, the head of the Russian national space agency Roscosmos in an RT report. "We will be studying the telemetry. Preliminary information points to an emergency pressure drop in a steering engine of the third stage of the rocket."
The remains of the rocket and its cargo appear to have burned up in the atmosphere, so there's likely no damage on the ground. The launch went abnormal during the 540th second of the flight when an emergency engine shut-down was triggered in response to the rocket deviating from its intended trajectory. During the third stage, called Briz-M, the rocket was about 93 miles (150 km) above the ground, just 40 seconds before it was to deploy its payload into orbit.
Today's crash marks the sixth major failure in just under four years for the Proton.
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Commenting on the failed launch, Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said "the only way to cut down the accident rate is to coherently implement the decision we have taken on the reform of the space industry."
All other launches of Proton-type rockets will be halted at Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan until the reason for the crash is determined.
A special commission from the Russian Federal Space Agency will be in charge of investigating the causes of the crash. A separate internal probe has been launched by the Voronezh mechanic plant, the producer of the engines for Briz-M third stages.
The launch, including the equipment and possible damage to third parties, had been insured with Ingosstrakh, the company said in a statement. The coverage may amount to up to $225 billion.
As for the lost satellite, the Express AM4R, is the most powerful Russian telecommunications satellite with a communications payload of 63 active transponders (30 in C-band, 28 in Ku-band, two in Ka-band, three in L-band) and 10 antennas.
[ RT ]
Top image: Roscosmos.