MOSCOW, May 16 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s Proton-M carrier rocket suffered an unknown failure and was lost early on Friday, about nine minutes after being launched from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, Russian space industry sources said.
Irina Zubareva, a spokeswoman for Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, said an unspecified failure took place during third stage flight.
She said that a malfunction took place during the third stage flight and “the Express-AM4R satellite was not put into orbit.”
“Members of a state commission are currently analyzing telemetry data in order to find out reasons” for the failure, she said.
Space industry sources told RIA Novosti that the rocket and the its payload, Russia’s most powerful and high-tech satellite Express-AM4R, were most likely lost.
The advanced satellite was manufactured by Astrium, an aerospace subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), and was built under the Russia’s space program for 2006-2015. It was to become the third spacecraft of the Express series to be launched this year.
According to Roscosmos, the malfunction occurred on the 540th second of the flight.
A Russian space industry source said the rocket was lost 40 seconds before reaching the designated orbit.
The rocket’s whereabouts are yet unknown.
A source told RIA Novosti that the rocket fell outside the borders of Kazakhstan, possibly in Russia’s south Siberia or in the Pacific Ocean. He said a commission will be set up to investigate causes of the crash, and Proton launches will be suspended pending the investigation.
The Proton is the largest of Russia’s fleet of space launch vehicles, and has carried both government and commercial payloads.
In July, a Proton rocket crashed shortly after liftoff showering the surrounding countryside with 600 tons of flaming propellants.
Launches of the Proton were suspended for three months following the accident and the two governments quarreled over the nearly $90 million clean-up bill.