A Russian rocket carrying the the country’s most-expensive, state-of-the-art communications satellite exploded minutes after takeoff and before reaching space on Friday.
Russian state media reports the Proton-M rocket took off Baikonur, Kazakhstan and, after ascending about 100 miles, veered off course and disintegrated in the atmosphere some nine minutes into flight when the Russian Federal Space Agency lost contact.
The failed rocket took an Express-AM4P European-built communications satellite valued around $28 million along with it.
RT covered the launch live.
“The exact cause is hard to establish immediately, we will be studying the telemetry. Preliminary information points to an emergency pressure drop in a steering engine of the third stage of the rocket,” Russian Federal Space Agency Chief Oleg Ostapenko said.
Friday’s failed launch marks the second time in a year-span that a Proton-M glitch has scrapped a launch. An unexpected engine shut down 17 seconds into a flight last July resulted in another crash one mile outside Baikonur’s launch pad. The destruction of the billion-dollar satellite is Russia’s sixth launch failure in just as many years.
Russian President Vladimir Putin fired the former chief of the Russian Federal Space Agency (commonly referred to as Roscosmos) last October after less than two years on the job, and appointed Ostapenko to overhaul the troubled program – an endeavor that’s cost the government billions already.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees Russian space policy, announced earlier this week the agency would no longer work with the U.S. to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station after 2020 – a retaliatory move against U.S. economic sanctions imposed over Russian intervention in Ukraine.
“We have enough of our own problems,” Rogozin said. “The Russian segment can exist independently from the American one. The U.S. one cannot.”
Shortly after Rogozin’s comments, NASA announced it received no such official statements from Russia, and that ongoing operations will continue as planned. Regardless, NASA had already severed ties with the Kremlin over Ukraine – ISS operations being the only exception – and is currently amidst plans to develop the next manned American space flight program by 2017.
A team of three ISS Expedition 39 astronauts from Russia, Japan and the United States returned to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz space capsule Tuesday after 180 days of joint work aboard the station. NASA astronaut Steve Swanson is the current commander aboard the ISS, joined by Russian astronauts Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov to make up the Expedition 40 crew, who will man the station until September.
Correction: An earlier version of this report cited an incorrect source valuing the lost satellite in the billions of dollars, not millions.