A giant Proton-M rocket had what seemed to be a successful lift-off late on Wednesday night in order to place into orbit a massive Russian satellite, Ekspress-AM4, and needed to help roll out the nation’s digital terrestrial TV system. But the launch went catastrophically wrong, and the satellite has seemingly been lost. Moreover, there will now be an investigation board as to what went wrong with the final, Briz-M upper stage of the Proton system. The satellite was insured for a reported $160 million.
This particular Ekspress satellite was built by EADS/Astrium and based on its huge EuroStar 3000 bus, and had a mass of some 5700 kgs and carried 63 transponders. The likely loss of the satellite will cause “serious damage for the communication industry as the Ekspress-AM4 is a unique modern spacecraft with a period of active life of 15 years,” the Telecoms ministry said in a statement.
There is a slim chance that the satellite has not been totally lost, but initial reports say that there is no trace of it on radar, nor have signals been picked up from the satellite. America’s NORAD aerospace defence system is being asked to see if it can see the craft.
Also worrying the industry is the knock-on effect that any investigation will have on future planned launches of international satellites by the Proton rockets. SES’s QuetzSat-1 was scheduled to be launched early in September, and ViaSat-1 due at the end of September. Both will inevitably be delayed, as will others.