A Russian Proton-M rocket carrying a Mexican satellite malfunctioned and crashed in Siberia soon after launch on Saturday, the latest in a series of mishaps for Russia’s space industry.
The third stage of the rocket carrying the MexSat-1 communications satellite suffered a problem about 500 seconds after launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russian media quoted Russian space officials as saying.
The cause of the accident, which meant the satellite was not put into orbit, was not immediately established. All launches of carrier rockets of this type would now be suspended, RIA news agency quoted one space official as saying.
The final stage of the Proton could still have contained a few tonnes of heptyl, a highly toxic rocket propellant, when it came down in the Chita region of Siberia, one space official was quoted as saying.
Russia’s workhorse Proton rocket, known at the time under its UR-500 code, made its first test flights in the mid-1960s.
It was originally designed as an intercontinental ballistic missile to carry a nuclear warhead targeting the US during the Cold War era but it was never deployed as a nuclear weapon.
Russia’s space industry, which pioneered space exploration with the launch of the first satellite and put the first man into space, has been dogged by accidents which have tarnished its reputation.
In late April, Russia abandoned a 2.6bn rouble ($51m) mission to supply the International Space Station, (ISS), after an unmanned Progress M-27M cargo ship, carrying almost three tonnes of supplies, was unable to dock with the ISS because of problems.
In July 2013, a Proton carrier rocket carrying three navigation satellites worth around $200m crashed shortly after lift-off from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome.
Just a few hours before Proton’s crash on Saturday, the Progress M-26M spaceship docked at the ISS failed to ignite its engines and correct the orbit of the space outpost, Russian media reported. The lives of the crew are not in danger, they said.
The cause of the latest accident with the Proton rocket was not immediately established.