Thursday, August 25, 2011

International Launch Failures

Progress M-12M at launch.

The Russian space program has taken a turn for the worse. Five minutes after blastoff, the Progress M-12M resupply spacecraft suddenly lost contact with ground controllers. There was an unknown problem with the second stage, and the craft failed to reach orbit. It crashed into a remote and sparsely-populated area in East Russia.

Proton-M lifting off.

The Proton disaster occurs within weeks of another one. On August 17th, Russian attempted to launch a Proton-M rocket carrying the Express AM4 communications satellite. In this case also, the second stage suffered a malfunction. Instead of crashing though, the failure of the second stage resulted in the satellite being placed into the wrong orbit, where it cannot function as intended. Russia placed all future Proton launches on hold, while scientists attempt to resolve the problem.

Long March rocket blastoff.

This month, trouble came in three's. On Thursday the 18th, the Chinese space agency tried to launch the Shijian satellite from its facilities in Northwest China. Again, a failure in the rocket cause the satellite to fail to reach its intended orbit. While China claims the Shijian to be a scientific payload, other scientists from outside China claim it may have been part of a military spy system. China's last rocket disaster occurred in 2009.

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