Long March Failure Destroys Chinese-Brazilian Satellite

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UPDATE, 12/10/13:  Space News is reporting the failure was caused by an unspecified malfunction in the rocket’s third stage. The vehicle’s builder, the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, is investigating.

The failure of a Long March 4B rocket has destroyed the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS-3).

“There was a malfunction of a launch vehicle during flight and hence satellite positioned in orbit has not been provided. Preliminary evaluations suggest that the CBERS-3 has returned to the planet,” according to a statement posted on the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) website.

“The data obtained show that the subsystems of CBERS-3 functioned normally during the attempted placing in orbit.

“To ensure compliance with the objectives of CBERS, Brazil and China agreed to immediately start program technical discussions aimed at anticipating the assembly and launch of CBERS-4.

“To that end, we convened an extraordinary meeting of the Joint Coordination Committee of the CBERS program (JPC, in English), for this Tuesday, December 10th, in China, in which representatives of all parties involved in the project. Among them, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI), President of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), the director of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and Chinese responsible for the development of the Chinese side of the satellite, the launcher and the launch operations. At this meeting, will discuss the causes of the launch failure and the next steps of the program.

“The Satellite China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite program (CBERS, its acronym in English) generates images of surface of Brazil for various applications, such as agricultural zoning, natural disaster monitoring and monitoring of vegetation changes, with wide application in the region Amazon.

“CBERS-3 would be the fourth satellite of the program to go into orbit. The previous three satellites operated properly and fulfill their missions.

“Brazil and China have achieved fruitful results in the past 25 years of cooperation in the space, and are confident in continuing this success.”

It was a rare failure of the reliable Long March launch vehicle family. This was the 75th orbital launch of the year and the third failure. A Sea Launch Zenit booster crashed into the ocean in February, and a Russian Proton nose dived into the ground after liftoff from Baikonur in July.

Eight more launches are scheduled worldwide this month, including a Long March 4B and Long March 3B. Those two missions are likely to be postponed to next year while the investigation is conducted.