An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton-M rocket lifted off from Pad 39 in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan early this morning carrying a Mexican communications satellite (MexSat-1). The initial part of the flight appeared to be nominally however at approximately 500 seconds something went wrong on the rocket’s third stage resulting in the loss of the satellite.
The state-owned Tass news agency reported the preliminary cause of the accident was in the steering engine on the Proton’s third stage. A Russian space industry source quoted by Tass said the rocket likely fell back to the ground from an altitude of 160 kilometers — about 100 miles — and burned up in the atmosphere, any debris that survived re-entry is believed to have crashed near the Siberian City of Chita.
This is the second Russian launch failure in the last three weeks with the loss of the Progress 59 spacecraft following an anomaly during launch. Progress has had a spotty history recently with three satellites lost last year due to failures as well.
There are five other Proton launches scheduled for this year, these are now likely to be delayed while an investigation is performed into this failure and any changes needed to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
What impact does this have for the future? On it’s own this failure would not have any impact on the International Space Station as Proton is not used for those launches, however with the two failures together this could have a bigger impact. Russia will, as they have in past failures, get to the bottom of this and make the necessary changes to address it.
The bigger impact for them, with competition from SpaceX and other companies, may be the lost of future business as customers look for alternate solutions which have proven to be more reliable.