Parts of a Russian satellite appear to have crashed into the Australian bush in Queensland) late on May 15th following its lift-off from the Baikonur cosmodrome. The giant Proton rocket itself failed after nine minutes and crashed into an uninhabited part of the countryside downrange from the Kazakhstan launch site. But it would seem the satellite, or portions of the Express-AM4R communications and broadband satellite, continued on its trajectory for some minutes. Most of the satellite burned up in the atmosphere.
The satellite was built by Astrium/Airbus for Russian Satellite Communications Co (RSCC) and designed to replace AM4, which was itself lost at launch in August 2011. The new satellite was designed to operate from 80 deg East and was to have been the most powerful satellite in RSCC’s fleet (30 C-band, 28 Ku-band, 2 Ka-Band, and 3 in L-band.
Russia’s TASS news agency says that contact with the rocket was lost in the 540th second after lift-off. This is the 6th major catastrophe for the Proton rocket system over the past three years or so.
The crash was likely caused by a failure in one of the third stage’s steering engines, reported Oleg Ostapenko, the head of the Russian national space agency Roscosmos. “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,” he said.
All other launches of Proton-type rockets will be halted at Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan until the reason for the crash is determined. This will delay ‘western’ launches including upcoming satellites for Russia (AM6), Turksat 4B, Astra 2G, Express AM8, AM7, AM9 for Russia, and MexSat-1.