Failures Continue to Haunt the Russian Space Program

A Proton takes a nose dive at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

The Soviet & Russian space programs have traditionally had a high launch rate, which also resulted in a fair number of partial and complete failures. For the past 30 years, the program has experienced 61 incidents or an average of about two per year. The current string of annual failures stretches back to 2004.

The chart below chronicles the partial and complete failures experienced over the last three decades. (Note: Some of the incidents involve Zenit boosters produced by former Soviet factories in Ukraine. These rockets usually fly with Russian-produced upper stages. Dnepr was also a joint program with Ukraine.)

SOVIET-RUSSIAN LAUNCH FAILURES, 1988 – 2018
NO.DATE LAUNCH VEHICLE
PAYLOAD(S)
RESULTCAUSE
1January 18, 1988Proton-K Blok-DM-2Gorizont 25LFailureThird stage failure due to disintegration of propellant feed line
2February 17, 1988Proton-K Blok-DM-2Uragan #23, Uragan #24, Uragan #25Partial FailureBlok D failure caused by ingestion of debris
3July 09, 1988Soyuz-UYantar-4KS1 #10Failure
4July 27, 1988Soyuz-UResurs-F1FailureFirst stage engine failure.
5November 11, 1988Soyuz-UYantar-4KS1 #11Failure
6June 9, 1989Tsiklon-3Okean-O1 #4Failure
7April 3, 1990Soyuz-UYantar-4K2 #51Failure
8June 21, 1990Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)Kosmos 2084Partial FailurePlaced in an incorrect orbit. Satellite did not communicate with ground
9July 3, 1990Soyuz-UYantar-4K2 #53Failure
10.August 9, 1990Proton-K Blok-DM-2Ekran-M 14LFailureThird stage lost thrust due to a cleaning rag inside propellant feed system
11October 4, 1990Zenit-2Tselina-2 #8FailureFirst stage engine failure five seconds after launch.
12June 25, 1991Kosmos-3MTaifun-2 #26FailureSecond stage malfunction
13August 30, 1991Zenit-2Tselina-2 #9FailureSecond stage explosion
14February 5, 1992Zenit-2Tselina-2 #10FailureSecond stage failure
15May 27, 1993Proton-K Blok-DM-2Gorizont 39LFailureThird stage failure
16May 25, 1994Tsiklon-3Tselina-D #69FailureSoftware error prevented third stage separation
17March 28, 1995StartGurwin 1, EKV, OSCAR 29FailureFailed to orbit, crashed into the Sea of Okhotsk
18October 6, 1995Kosmos-3MKosmos 2321 (Parus #84)Partial FailureSecond stage malfunction, placed in useless orbit
19February 19, 1996Proton-K Blok-DM-2Raduga 33Partial FailureBlok-DM-2 upper stage failed to restart to circularize orbit
20May 14, 1996Soyuz-UYantar-1KFT #18FailurePayload fairing disintegrated in flight
21June 20, 1996Soyuz-UYantar-4K2 #76FailurePayload fairing disintegrated in flight
22November 16, 1996Proton-K Blok-D-2Mars ’96Partial FailureProbe re-entered atmosphere after fourth stage failure
23May 20, 1997Zenit-2Tselina-2 #19FailureFirst stage failure
24December 24, 1997Proton-K Blok-DM3AsiaSat 3Partial FailureFourth stage malfunction prevented satellite from reaching geosynchronous orbit; salvaged with lunar flyby
25June 15, 1998Tsiklon-3Strela-3 #119, Strela-3 #120, Strela-3 #121, Strela-3 #122, Strela-3 #123, Strela-3 #124Partial FailureThird stage malfunction left satellites in unintended elliptical orbit
26September 09, 1998Zenit-2Globalstar 5, Globalstar 7, Globalstar 9, Globalstar 10, Globalstar 11, Globalstar 12, Globalstar 13, Globalstar 16, Globalstar 17, Globalstar 18, Globalstar 20, Globalstar 21FailureSecond stage shut down after guidance system failed
27July 05, 1999Proton-K Briz-MRaduga (34) (Gran 45L)FailureSecond stage failure
28October 27, 1999Proton-K Blok-DM-2MEkspress-A 1FailureSecond stage failure
29December 24, 1999Rokot-KRVSN 40FailureStage-separation fired before launch
30November 20, 2000Kosmos-3MQuickBird 1 (QB 1)FailureSecond stage failed to ignite
31December 27, 2000Tsiklon-3Gonets 7, Gonets 8, Gonets 9, Strela-3 #125, Strela-3 #126, Strela-3 #127FailureThird stage failure
32October 15, 2002Soyuz-UFoton-M 1FailureFirst stage exploded seconds after launch
33November 25, 2002Proton-K Blok-DM3Astra 1KFailureBlok-DM3 left satellite in unusable orbit; spacecraft de-orbited 15 days after launch
34Dec. 24, 2004Tsiklon-3Sich 1M, Micron 1Partial FailureBooster failed to circularize orbit
35June 21, 2005Molniya-M Blok-MLMolniya-3KFailureThird stage failure
36June 21, 2005Volna-OCosmos 1FailureCosmos Studios/The Planetary Society solar sail satellite failed to separate from booster third stage
37August 10, 2005Rokot Briz-KMCryosatFailureSecond stage failure; crashed in Arctic Ocean north of Greenland
38February 28, 2006Proton-M Briz-MArabsat 4A (Badr 1)FailureFailed to reach usable orbit; de-orbited 24 days after launch
39July 26, 2006DneprBelKa 1, Baumanets 1, Unisat 4, PicPot, CP 1, CP 2, HAUSAT 1, ICECube 1, ICECube 2, ION, KUTESat-Pathfinder, Mea Huaka’i, MEROPE, Ncube 1, Rincon 1, SACRED SEEDS, AeroCube 1FailureEngine failure
40Sept. 5, 2007Proton-M/Briz-MJCSat 11FailureSecond stage failure; booster and payload crashed in Kazakhstan
41March 14, 2008Proton-M/Briz-MAMC 14Partial FailureBriz-M upper stage shut down 2 minutes early. Owner SES Americom declared satellite a complete loss. AMC 14 sold to US Department of Defense which manuevered into geosynchronous orbit using on-board thrusters.
42May 21, 2009Soyuz-2.1a/ FregatMeridian 2FailureSecond stage shut down early, Fregat upper stage ran out of fuel trying to compensate. Satellite left in useless orbit, declared a loss by Russian military.
43Dec. 5, 2010Proton-M/ Blok-DM-3Uragan-M #739, Uragan-M #740, Uragan-M #741FailureRocket failed to reach orbital velocity after upper stage overfilled with propellant.
44Feb. 1, 2011Rokot/Briz-KMGeo-IK-2 No. 11FailureUpper stage malfunction.
45Aug. 17, 2011Proton-M/ Briz-MEkspress AM4
FailureBriz-M upper stage suffered failure of attitude control.
46Aug. 24, 2011Soyuz-UProgress M-12FailureThird stage failure due to turbo-pump duct blockage.
47Nov. 8, 2011Zenit-2SB/ FregatPhobos-Grunt
Yinghuo-1
FailureZenit placed Phobos-Grunt in proper orbit. Spacecraft stranded in Earth orbit after Fregat failed to fire.
48Dec. 23, 2011Soyuz-2.1b/ FregatMeridian 5FailureThird stage failure.
49Aug. 6, 2012Proton-M/ Briz-MTelkom-3, Ekspress MD2FailureBriz-M upper stage failed 7 seconds into its third burn.
50Dec. 8, 2012Proton-M/ Briz-MYamal-402Partial FailureBriz-M upper stage shut down 4 minutes earlier than planned on fourth burn. Spacecraft reached intended orbit under own power.
51Jan. 15, 2013Rokot/Briz-KMKosmos 2482, Kosmos 2483, Kosmos 2484Partial FailureUpper stage failed near time of spacecraft separation; one satellite destroyed.
52Feb. 1, 2013Zenit-3SL (Sea Launch)
Intelsat 27FailureFirst stage failure.
53July 2, 2013Proton-M/DM-03Uragan-M #748, Uragan-M #749,
Uragan-M #750
FailureFirst stage failure.
54May 15, 2014Proton-M/Briz-MEkspress AM4RFailureProton third stage vernier engine failure due to turbo-pump leak.
55Aug. 14, 2014Soyuz-STB/ FregatGalileo FOC-1, Galileo FOC-2Partial FailureSatellites placed in wrong orbits due to freezing of hydrazine in Fregat upper stage. Satellites made operational as part of Europe’s Galileo navigation constellation.
56April 28, 2015Soyuz-2.1aProgress 59PFailureThird stage failure left Progress in uncontrollable tumble.
57May 16, 2015Proton/Briz-MMexSat-1FailureThird stage failure anomaly.
58December 5, 2015Soyuz-2.1v/ VolgaKanopus ST
KYuA 1
Partial FailurePrimary payload Kanopus ST remained attached to upper stage, later burned up in atmosphere. Secondary payload KYuA 1 deployed successfully.
59December 1, 2016Soyuz UProgress MS-04FailureThird stage failure. Progress supply ship burned up in atmosphere.
60November 28, 2017Soyuz 2-1bMeteor-M 2-1, 18 CubeSatsFailureFregat upper stage failure.
61October 11, 2018Soyuz FGSoyuz MS-10FailureLaunch anomaly resulted in emergency landing for two-member crew

Launch Delays Blessing in Disguise for GRACE-FO Mission

GRACE-FO spacecraft (Credit: Airbus Defense and Space)

A German-American science mission scheduled to launch this week is running nine months behind schedule due to issues with launch vehicles. However, the delays turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the project, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

The twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites are set to launch on Tuesday at 12:47:58 p.m. PDT (3:47:58 p.m. EDT; 1947:58 GMT) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch will be webcast at www.nasa.gov and www.spacex.com.

(more…)

Russian Launch Failures Aren’t a Bug, They’re a Feature

A Proton takes a nose dive at Baikonur. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Edior

Over the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of Russia’s annual launch failures. For reasons I can’t quite recall, the table I’ve used only went back to 2009.

Recently, I saw a graphic on a Russian website about launch failures, and I realized I hadn’t gone back far enough. So, I dug into the records of the last 30 years from 1988 through 2017, which covers Russia and the last four years of the Soviet Union.

And holy crap! There were a helluva lot of them. Launch failures are not a bug in the system, they’re a feature.

(more…)

Ukraine Seeking ESA Membership

The chairman of Ukraine’s space agency, Yuri Radchenko. said last week his nation is seeking membership in the European Space Agency (ESA).

“Today, we held talks with the Head of the European Space Agency on this matter,” he explained. “The strategy and the tactics on the matter have been worked out. It is required to fulfill a number of conditions to become a member of the European Space Agency.”

He said the membership could be secured within “a reasonable” timeframe.

(more…)

Russia to End Rockot Launches

Rockot launch vehicle

The end of the line is coming soon for Russia’s Rockot (Rokot) launch vehicle.

The converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has only two more missions on its manifest before the program ends. In the months ahead, it will launch Sentinel 5P and Sentinel 3B Earth observation satellites for ESA and the European Commission.

The Sentinel 5P launch is set for June. Tass reports the Sentinel 3B flight will likely occur late this year or early 2018.

Rockot is being phased out in favor of the newer Angara-1.2 and Soyuz-2.1v boosters, which are capable of launching lighter payloads.

Rockot is a converted SS-19 ICBM built by Khrunichev and operated by Eurockot Launch Services. Flights are conducted from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.

The three-stage booster is capable of lifting 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) in low Earth orbit (LEO) and 1,200 kilograms (2,646 lb) into sun synchronous orbit (SSO).

Rockot has launched 30 times, with 27 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

The retirement of Rockot ends Russia’s second program that used  in converted Soviet-era ICBMs as satellite launchers. In 2015, the country ended a joint program with Ukraine to convert SS-18 missiles into Denpr launch vehicles.

Dnepr was capable of lifting 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) to LEO and 2,300 kg (5,071 lb) to SSO.

The booster was launched 22 times, with 21 successes and one failure. The last flight was on March 25, 2015.

Dnepr launches were conducted out of Yasny in Russia and Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

Save

Save

Save

Save

COMSTAC Recommends Against Lifting Ban on Commercial ICBM Use

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

The FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) voted last week to recommend that the U.S. government maintain its ban on the use of excess ICBM motors for launching commercial satellites. The recommendation to the FAA is a non-binding one.

(more…)

Iridium Delays Dnepr Launch, Moves Up Falcon 9 Flight

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)
Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

In another blow to Ukraine’s struggling space sector, Iridium Communications has postponed plans to launch two Iridium Next satellites aboard a Dnepr launcher.  Instead, Iridium will move up a scheduled launch of spacecraft aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Space News reports the launch had been scheduled for April. However, the Russian Ministry of Defense has not yet issued the required licenses to launch the booster from Yasny spaceport.

Dnepr is a joint program between Ukraine and Russia under which decommissioned ballistic missiles are converted into satellite launches. Russia has been looking to phase out use of the booster in favor of domestic launchers amid political tensions with Ukraine.

The International Monetary Fund has estimated that Ukraine’s space sector has lost up to 80 percent of its revenues as a result of canceled orders from Russia.

The first two Iridium Next spacecraft were to be launched aboard Dnepr so engineers could verify their design and operations. The company plans to launch 72 Iridium Next spacecraft by the end of 2017.

Iridium now plans to launch the first 10 satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket whose flight has been moved up to July from August. A second Falcon 9 would launch an additional 10 spacecraft in October.

The Dnepr launcher could be used later in the Iridium Next deployment sequence if the required licenses are obtained.

IMF: Ukraine Space Sector Possibly Suffered 80 Percent Revenue Loss

The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)
The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares (aka, Taurus II) rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)

The International Monetary Fund estimates the Ukrainian space industry lost up to 80 percent of its revenues following the Russian invasion of the eastern part of the country.

(more…)

Russia Led in Launch Successes and Failures in 2015

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)
Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

Russia continued its dominance of the global satellite launch industry in 2015, conducting 29 of 86 orbital launches over the past 12 months. It also maintained its lead in botched launches, suffering two failures and one partial failure.

(more…)

Brazil Abandons Troubled Cyclone-4 Program

Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)
Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)

It looks like the rumors I reported last month are true. Brazil has decided to pull out of its joint program with Ukraine to launch satellites aboard Cyclone-4 boosters from the Alcantara Launch Center.

“It is an accumulation of issues,” said Petronio Noronha de Souza, AEB’s director of space policy and strategic investments. “There have been challenges on the budget issues, on the technological aspects, in the relationship between Brazil and Ukraine and in the actual market for export that would be available. So it is a combination of things.”

In an April 14 interview at the Latin America Aero and Defense, or LAAD, show here, Noronha de Souza said a formal government announcement, likely from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the program’s stoppage was imminent.

(more…)

ISC Kosmotras: Reports of Dnepr’s Death Greatly Exaggerated

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)
Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

MOSCOW (ISC Kosmotras PR) — This is to inform our current and potential customers that publications in the Russian press in February 2015 about the Dnepr Program suspension are not reflecting the reality. All ISC Kosmotras activities are on track to fulfill our contractual obligations.

ISC Kosmotras recognizes that such publications have caused many concerns and confusion but were unfortunately out of our control. We can only apologize for that.

Dnepr Launch Manifest for 2016-2017

1st half of 2016: Dedicated launch of a group of satellites

2nd half of 2016: Cluster launch of a group of satellites

1st half of 2017: Cluster launch of a group of satellites

5 August 2017: Dedicated launch of 2 GRACE Follow-On satellites

2nd half of 2017 – 1st half of 2018: Dedicated launch of a group of satellites

Russia Looks to Phase Out Rockot Launch Vehicle

Rockot launch vehicle
Rockot launch vehicle

It looks like we can add Rockot to the list of satellite launch vehicles that the Russians will be phasing out.

Russian media are reporting that the converted ballistic missile will be replaced by Angara and Soyuz-2.1v launch vehicles, which have had their initial flight tests over the past 14 months.

In addition to the availability of alternatives, there’s another reason for phasing out the Rockot: it depends upon components from Ukraine, with whom Russia is in conflict.

Media reports say that nation has banned export of Rockot parts in retaliation for the Russian annexation of Crimea and its support for rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.

(more…)

Ukraine Space Industry on Verge of Collapse

The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)
The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)

I was just looking at the website for Yuzhmash, which is Ukraine’s principle producer of launch vehicles. I ran across the following letter to employees published on Oct. 10. It includes this rather prediction:

“Pivdenmash [Yuzhmash] is in deep financial crisis, the main factor which is a precipitous decline in production. The current crisis is not irreversible, but the situation is close to the point of no return.

“The actual bankruptcy of the enterprise will result in the loss of Ukraine’s status as a space power, failure of the obligations of the State to enter into international agreements, irreversible loss of proven technologies.”

This was four months ago. And by all accounts, matters have only gotten worse. The fighting eastern Ukraine has intensified. The government’s finances haven’t improved. And employees were given two-month unpaid leaves in late January. That came after many months of 3-day work weeks and partial pay.

(more…)

Russia Severing Ties With Ukraine on Dnepr, Zenit Launch Programs

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)
Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

Roscosmos officials made announcements this week that they would be suspending a joint program with Ukraine to launch Dnepr rockets and were no longer interested in buying Ukrainian Zenit boosters, deepening problems for that embattled nation’s space program and its struggling Yuzhmash factory.

Dneprs are converted SS-18 ballistic missiles that are converted into satellite launchers by Ukraine’s Yuzhmash launch vehicle manufacturer. The boosters are launched by the Moscow-based Moscow-based Kosmotras International Space Company, which is Russian-Ukrainian joint venture.

Russian media report three Dnepr launches scheduled this year will be carried out. However, The Moscow Times reports the future of the venture remains cloudy. It is possible the program will end, or Russia will convert the missiles to satellite launchers without Ukrainian participation.

(more…)

Ukrainian Space Workers Rally for Back Pay

The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)
The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)

Interfax-Ukraine reports that workers at the A.M. Makarov Southern Machine-Building Plant (PA Yuzhmash) in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine held a rally to protest the lack of pay and work.

The workers build Zenit and Cyclone-4 boosters as well as the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares launch vehicle and the fourth stage for Europe’s Vega rocket. They are also involved in Dnepr, a decommissioned ballistic missile that has been converted into a satellite launcher.

The report indicates that since last July, employees have been working only three days per week and are pay $200 to $300 only once or twice per month. There’s also been a lack of new orders for their products.

The company owes about $150 million in back salaries and other payments, according to the story.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, whose country is responsible for much of Ukraine’s misery, Tweeted the following:

rogozin_yuzhmash_tweet