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Proton disaster: Official report

July 19, 2013

It is now officially acknowledged that the July 2nd catastrophic failure of a Proton-M rocket was caused by the insertion of crucial sensors upside-down.  The mistake affected three of six yaw angular velocity sensors on the unmanned rocket, said deputy head of Roscosmos, Alexander Lopatin, citing a state commission’s investigation of the crash in a statement released July 18.

The rocket’s failure has severely impacted future launches, although now that the cause has been identified corrective action can be taken on other Proton rockets. There is a long manifest of would-be satellite launches waiting for flights to be reinstated.

The mistake could have been the fault of either the worker who installed the sensors or the engineer who drew up the construction blueprints, Lopatin said at a press conference. “Installing these devices is complicated and awkward work,” added.

However, he admitted that the wrongly installed sensors bore the trace of being forced into place. He confirmed there was no mechanism for spotting such a mistake in current pre-launch procedures.  The commission is now drafting a set of measures to rectify the situation, including possible filming of sensor installation procedures for pre-launch review.

The sensors were produced by the Academician Pilyugin Center and installed at the Khrunichev space center, which assembled the rocket in 2011. Both enterprises are state-owned and Moscow-based.

The Proton-M, which was carrying three Glonass navigation satellites, tipped over and rolled before it blew up 12 seconds after take-off .

Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office is looking into the Roscomos investigation’s findings, as will the government, Lopatin said. The Cabinet is planning a reform of Russia’s space industry, which has been plagued by a series of failed launches in recent years, several involving Proton rockets.

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