Two days ago Russia retaliated against US sanctions by banning the US from using the International Space Station after 2020, and by barring the use of Russian rockets as launch vehicles for US military satellites. Then, moments ago, a Russian Proton rocket, carrying Russia's most advanced and powerful satellite on board, crashed on take off, during the activation of the third rocket stage some 9 minutes into the launch. Coincidence? Surely.
A Russian Proton rocket with advanced satellite on board crashed outside of Kazakhstan's territory after lift-off, RIA Novosti cited a source as saying.
There are so far no reports of damage or casualties.
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 source told RIA Novosti.
There was an emergency engines shutdown on the 540th second following the launch, the Russian Federal Space Agency said, as quoted by Itar-Tass.
The Proton rocket, carrying an advanced Express-AM4R satellite, was launched on schedule from Baikonur on Friday.
The Express-AM4R would have been Russia’s most advanced and powerful satellite.
A summary of the destroyed Express-AM4R:
The advanced Express-AM4R satellite is manufactured on RSCC’ order by EADS Astrium within the framework of the Russian Federal Space Program for 2006-2015. The satellite will provide TV & Radio broadcasting, broadband Internet access, multimedia services, telephony, mobile communications.
The satellite is planned for launch in 2014.
Here is NASA with an extaneded analysis of what happened:
Russia launched another of their Proton-M rockets on Thursday, with the mission tasked with lofting the Ekspress-AM4R telecommunications satellite into orbit. Launch of the Proton-M rocket took place from Launch Pad 39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 21:42 GMT. However, an unspecified failure was noted during third stage flight. The rocket and satellite are lost.
The Proton vehicle is a veteran of the Russian space program, with hundreds of launches since 1965.
It is built by Khrunichev Research and State Production Center, with majority owner International Launch Services (ILS) also flying the vehicle on commercial missions.
The first stage consists of a central tank containing the oxidizer surrounded by six outboard fuel tanks. Each fuel tank also carries one of the six RD-276 engines that provide first stage power.
Total first stage vacuum-rated level thrust is 11.0 MN (2,500,000 lbf).
Of a conventional cylindrical design, the second stage is powered by three RD-0210 engines plus one RD-0211 engine and develops a vacuum thrust of 2.4 MN (540,000 lbf).
Powered by one RD-0213 engine, the third stage develops thrust of 583 kN (131,000 lbf), and a four-nozzle vernier engine that produces thrust of 31 kN (7,000 lbf).
Guidance, navigation, and control of the Proton M during operation of the first three stages is carried out by a triple redundant closed-loop digital avionics system mounted in the Proton’s third stage.
The Russians are currently using the Phase III Proton-M launch vehicle, which was flight proven on the Russian Federal dual mission of Express AM-44 and Express MD-1 in February 2009 and performed its first commercial launch in March 2010 with the Echostar XIV satellite.
The phase III configuration is the current standard configuration for ILS Proton, providing 6150 kg of GTO performance, which is an increase of 1150 kg over the original Proton Breeze M, while maintaining the fundamental design configuration.
As a workhorse, the Proton-M has suffered from its fair share of failures, none more dramatic than the July failure, when the rocket rolled from one side to the other, prior to crashing into the cosmodrome.
The Russian government launch was carrying three satellites for the GLONASS navigation system.
The vehicle then enjoyed several successful launches under its belt since the failure. However, Thursday’s mission appears to have added to the list of
It is not yet know what went wrong, with only the Russian commentator noting an anomoly and cutting the webcast. The vehicle was on to the third stage segment of flight at this point.
The mission was set to send the spacecraft to its transfer orbit via the Upper Stage called the Briz-M, which carries out multiple burns to deploy the satellites into their respective orbits.
The Astrium-built Ekspress-AM4R – which now appears to be lost – had a mass at launch of 5,741 kg. It is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform and was expected to enjoy a service life of 15 years.
The spacecraft sported 30 C-band, 28 Ku-band, 2 Ka-band and 3 L-band transponders and was to provide digital television and radio broadcasting services across Russia, mobile presidential and government communications, multimedia services (telephony, video conferencing, data transmission, Internet access) as well as solutions based on VSAT network technologies.
Ekspress-AM4R was launched from Pad 39 of Area 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The launch was set to take place last month. However, engineers were delayed in repairing Pad 200/39?s ground electrical umbilical unit 8U259, which caused last year’s failed Proton rocket to lift off half-a-second early from Pad 81/24.
One of four Proton launch complexes at Baikonur, Pad 39 has been used for the majority of Proton-M/Briz-M launches, and is overall the most used of the four pads.
The first launch from Pad 39 occurred in February 1980, and since then over 100 launches have been made from it, including the core and three other modules of Mir, three probes to Venus, a probe to Phobos, and the failed Mars-96 mission.
So an emergency engine shutdown? Was the shutdown activated by a certain Fort Meade agency by any chance? We hope to find out shortly, because whether this was indeed industrial sabotage or will simply be spun as one (to avoid the stigma of incompetence)?
To be sure, if the Kremlin finds a microchip with "Stuxnet wuz here" etched into the Gallium-Arsenide, things are about to get even more interesting.
Update: here is the video recording of the first 540 seconds of the flight when the "situation" arises and the transmission ends.