Rocket carrying $390m Mexican satellite crashes in Siberia

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Tim Brown

On Saturday an unmanned rocket was launched from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan but malfunctioned and crashed in eastern Siberia.

The International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket, which was carrying Mexico’s Centenario mobile-communications satellite, reportedly failed about eight minutes after liftoff on May 16.

Virginia-based ILS said in a statement that “preliminary flight information indicated that the anomaly occurred during the operation of the third stage.”

Russia’s Roscosmos space agency declined to comment on the possible cause of the crash but said an investigation had been commenced.

The more than five tonne (5,325kg) Centenario satellite, built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, was reportedly insured for about $390m.

As has been the case with previous Proton failures, the Russian government will create a commission to determine the cause of the failure, while ILS will establish its own Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB).

In a statement, Boeing said it was “disappointed” by the loss of the Centenario satellite. The statement said: “We stand ready to assist the Mexican government in any way we can to enable our customer to meet its communications needs for the people of Mexico. Centenario was the first of two satellites Boeing is building for the government’s Mexsat telecommunications system. We will continue to partner with the Mexican government to ensure its second satellite, Morelos 3, will be ready for launch later this year.”

In an unfortunate irony, the satellite was originally scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan on April 27 but was postponed after Boeing identified a problem with another similar satellite. Although, it is believed that there was no fault found with the Centenario satellite, the company decided the issue required further investigation prior to launch.

The Proton rocket fleet has now been grounded following the outcome of the investigation of this most recent crash. This failure comes just two weeks after the Russian Progress craft, which was bound for the International Space Station, fell uncontrolled from orbit on May 8, following its botched April 28 launch on a Russian Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket, also from Kazakhstan.

Another incident exactly 12 months ago saw a Proton-M rocket and its communications satellite payload destroyed after officials on the ground lost contact with it. That rocket veered off path on May 16, 2014, causing an emergency system to cut off propulsion.

Major headaches for future planned launches

According to BBC News Science correspondent, Jonathan Amos, the most recent failure will be a “major headache” for London-based Inmarsat, the world’s largest mobile satellite services operator.

According to Amos, the company is “in the midst of rolling out Global Xpress, its next-generation constellation of satellites. This is the largest single commercial space project in Britain, worth more than $1.57bn (£1bn), and will provide enhanced communications to ships, planes, the armed forces and broadcasting companies.

“Two of the three satellites in Global Xpress have been launched successfully on Protons. The third was due to be launched next month. This will not happen now, and the anticipated September inauguration of global services on the new constellation will likely be pushed back several months as a consequence.”