Lost in the coverage of NASA's successful Curiosity mars rover landing, was another Russian launch failure on August 7. The latest fiasco is bound to cause more consternation and soul-searching in the Russian space program and should trigger heightened awareness for a NASA dependent upon Russian Soyuz spacecraft for putting people on board the International Space Station (ISS).
Russia launched a Proton rocket equipped with a Breeze-M booster carrying Russia's Express MD2 communications satellite and Indonesia's Telkom-3 communications satellite at 11:30 p.m. Moscow time on August 7 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. During the launch, the Briz-M booster only fired for seven seconds, rather than the necessary 18 minutes and five seconds to put the pair of satellites into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, according to a report from RIA Novosti. The Briz-M and its payloads are now a big piece of space junk in low earth orbit.
Sources in the Russian space industry say that launches of the Proton-M/Briz-M combination will be suspended until experts can figure out what happened and how to correct problems.
In August 2011, the malfunction of a Breeze-M booster lead to the embarrassing loss of Russia's Express-AM4 telecommunications satellite, one of a group of launch failures in the year that included the loss of the Progress 44 cargo freighter to ISS, an unmanned Soyuz launch to put a dual-use military/civilian communications satellite into orbit, and the launch Phobus-Grunt Mars probe.
The loss of Telkom-3 is the more significant one. Built by Reshetnev with communications equipment provided by Thales (News - Alert) Alenia Space, it had a capacity of 42 C- and Ku-band transponders to provide telecommunications services for Indonesia. Express MD2 was built by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center for the Russian Satellite Communications Company(RSCC (News - Alert)) and featured 8 C-band transponders and 1 L-band transponder to relay round-the-clock, data streams to multiple users within the Russian Satellite Communications and Broadcasting System.
Russia was supposed to have fixed the issues around the Breeze-M back in February with the successful launch of SES (News - Alert)-4 back in February 2012, but the latest failure calls into question how well things remain "fixed" in the country's space engineering companies. Russia provides both the Soyuz rocket and manned Soyuz capsule to transport crew to ISS, and both have had issues over the past 12 months. As noted earlier, the Progress 44 cargo mission crashed into Siberia in August 2011 after its Soyuz rocket failed to put it into orbit. A March 30, 2012 crew launch to ISS was delayed because the Soyuz capsule allocated for the mission was severely overpressured, breaking it and resulting in a shuffle of hardware and understaffing of the station for several weeks.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman