More bad news for Russian Spaceflight: Proton-M explodes (UPDATE)

UPDATE: While the investigation is only beginning, at present it appears that a fault in steering engines may have been to blame.  This would a four-nozzle vernier engine.  During third stage flight, a rocket is going very fast — approaching orbital velocity — and only slight deviations from its trajectory could put enormous aerodynamic strain on the vehicle.  Meanwhile, MexSat-1’s insurance policy is paying for the entire cost of the spacecraft.  Lastly, I have a correction — I wrote that the third MexSat would be launching aboard Ariane V, but I had the wrong A*V vehicle.  The first one went up on Ariane V, but the third (Morelos 2) will be going up on Atlas V.

Proton-M was scheduled to launch MexSat-1 “Centenario”, a Mexican geosynchronous commsat, from Baikonur Cosmodrome today.  The initial launch looked fine, but then something went catastrophically wrong during operation of the Briz-M third stage.  Proton-M has had a particularly bad wrong.  Out of 43 launch attempts in the past five years, six have been catastrophic failures, and two ended in useless orbits.  The payload and upper stage are believed to have reentered and impacted in the Chita region of Russia, near Mongolia, although signs suggest it broke up very high and so pieces may be relatively small.  This flight was managed by International Launch Services, a collaboration between Lockheed Martin and RSC Khrunichev, which sells Proton and Atlas V commercially.

“Centenario” is one of a set of three satellites purchased by Mexico from Boeing and built in the United States.  The first one launched on Ariane V and has gone into service, while the third is scheduled to also fly on Ariane V.

Everything looks okay in this video, but it likely perished not long after:

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