The spectacular crash of Russia’s Proton rocket on Tuesday — with the loss of three navigation satellites — was simply the latest in a series of launch failures that have bedeviled the Russian and Ukrainian space industries over the last 30 months.
The table below shows a tale of woe that began in December 2010 and has resulted in the loss of 15 spacecraft and cost the heads of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and launch vehicle builder Khrunichev their jobs.
|RUSSIAN & UKRAINIAN LAUNCH FAILURES SINCE DECEMBER 2010|
|Dec. 5, 2010||Proton||Block-DM||3 GLONASS satellites||Crashed in Pacific Ocean||Block-DM overfilled with fuel making it too heavy to send satellites into orbit|
|Feb. 1, 2011||Rockot||Breeze-KM||GEO-IK 2||Stranded in useless orbit||Failed restart of Breeze-KM|
|Aug. 18, 2011||Proton||Breeze-M||Express-AM4||Stranded in useless orbit||Breeze-M under performance|
|Aug. 24, 2011||Soyuz-U||Block-I (3rd stage)||Progress M-12M freighter||Burned up over Siberia||Blocked fuel line in third stage|
|Sept. 27, 2011||ICBM|
|—||—||Missile failed during initial test, crashed 5 miles from launch site||Failure of first stage|
|Nov. 9, 2011||Zenit-2SB|
|Fregat (Russia)||Phobos-Grunt (Russia)||Stranded in Earth orbit, re-entered atmosphere||Fregat upper stage failure|
|Dec. 23, 2011||Soyuz-2.1b||Fregat||Meridian-5||Re-entered over Siberia||Failure of Block-1 third stage engine|
|Aug. 23, 2012||Proton||Breeze-M||Telkom 3 (Indonesia), Express MD2||Satellites stranded in useless orbits; Breeze-M later exploded, creating large debris field||Breeze-M failure|
|Dec. 8, 2012||Proton||Breeze-M||Yamal-402||Placed satellite in wrong orbit; satellite reached planned orbit using on-board propellant||Early shutdown of Breeze-M|
|Jan. 15, 2013||Rockot||Breeze-KM||3 Strela 3M Rodnik satellites||One satellite reportedly lost, two others placed in orbit; controllers unable to maneuver upper stage to lower orbit for rapid re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere||Erratic behavior of Breeze-KM|
|Feb. 1, 2013||Zenit-3SL|
|Block DM-SL (Russia)||Intelsat 27||Rocket and satellite fell into the sea||First stage failure|
|July 2, 2013||Proton||Breeze-M||3 GLONASS Satellites||Crashed at launch site||First stage failure|
Twelve launches have gone awry since December 2010, with 10 failures and two partial successes. Fifteen spacecraft were lost, ranging from communications and navigational satellites to Russia’s first Mars probe in 17 years. Four satellites were successfully deployed into orbit. And a cloud of orbital debris resulted from the explosion of a malfunctioning upper stage.
Ten of the 12 failures involved Russian rockets. The list includes five failures involving Protons, two each involving Soyuz and Rockot launch vehicles, and the loss of an ICBM during a test flight.
Two other failures involved Ukrainian-built Zenit launch vehicles. One of the Zenit failures involved Sea Launch, a company which is majority owned by Energia of Russia. That flight fell into the sea after the Ukrainian first stage failed. The other mission failed due to a malfunctioning Russian upper stage.
Problems with upper stages figured into nine of the 12 failures, including malfunctions in three Breeze-M and two Breeze-KM stages. First stage anomalies were responsible for the other three launch failures.
As the problems have mounted, the Russian leadership has made some personnel changes at the top. Roscosmos head Anatoly Perminov was replaced by Vladimir Popovkin in April 2012.
Last September, Khrunichev Director-General Vladimir Nesterov was also relieved of his post. Khrunichev is responsible the Proton and Rockot launch vehicles, including the Breeze-M and Breeze-KM upper stages that have figured in five of the failures.
Officials also have installed Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as the nation’s defense and space czar, charging him with improving quality control throughout these vital sectors and rooting out corruption.