Russia, China Suffer Launch Failures on Same Day

Thursday was not a good day for Russian and Chinese launch crews.

Russia has lost contact with the Express-AM4 communications satellite after it was launched by a Proton-M.  Neither the rocket’s Briz-M upper stage nor the satellite has communicated with ground controllers. Roscosmos has located the upper stage in orbit, but the satellite’s location is unknown. The Express AM-4 satellite was designed for digital TV broadcasting.

This is the third launch failure for Russia’s space program in 8 months, and the second one involving a Briz-M upper stage. Last December, three GLONASS satellites were lost due to a fuel miscalculation in the upper stage of its Proton launcher. Two months later, a military satellite was lost when it entered the wrong orbit due to a failure of the gyroscopic orientation unit in the Briz-M upper stage of a Rockot launch vehicle.

Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov lost his job as a result of the two earlier launch failures and other problems afflicting the space agency.

Meanwhile, the third time was not a charm for the Chinese. The failure of a Long March II-C rocket destroyed an experimental SJ-11-04 spacecraft after launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. There’s no word on the exact cause of the failure. It was China’s third launch in a week; the previous two were successful.