A Russian rocket carrying the country’s most advanced communications satellite exploded shortly after launch early Friday, Russian state media reports.
Officials lost contact about nine minutes after the unmanned rocket took off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. About 100 miles high, it veered off path and disintegrated in Earth’s atmosphere. The Express-AM4P European-built satellite, which was destroyed, was reportedly worth $29 million. The rocket was insured for around $225 million.
Several Russian media covered the launch live, and many networks caught the launch on camera including RT.
In the first part of the GIF below, that initial fiery scene during the takeoff is normal with a launch. The second-half of this GIF shows the rocket exploding in the air.
This GIF shows the rocket disintegrating and falling back to Earth after the explosion.
“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,” Roscosmos Chief Oleg Ostapenko said.
Russia’s space industry, which is very active with more than 30 launches just last year, has grappled with six critical failures over the past six years. This recent launch was the second time in a year that one of these rockets, called a Proton-M, has floundered during liftoff. The last blunder, seen in the photos below, happened in July 2013 after the Proton-M booster unexpectedly shut down the engine 17 seconds into the flight and crashed some about a mile away from the Baikonur launch pad.
In October 2013, it fired its Roscosmos chief after less than two years on the job. Russian President Vladimir Putin tasked Ostapenko with revamping the space agency. The Russian government has sunk billions in extra state funding to overhaul the program.
The United States currently works with Russia to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station. However, earlier this week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters that he would veto any U.S. request to use the ISS beyond 2020.
“We have enough of our own problems,” Rogozin said of the troubled Russian Federal Space Agency.
The move is in retaliation to the sanctions that the U.S. unleashed on Putin and his top officials in response the crisis in Ukraine. Rogozin called the sanctions “inappropriate.” He added that the Russian space agency could function on its own, without any help from the U.S.
“The Russian segment can exist independently from the American one,” he said. “The U.S. one cannot.”
However, NASA had its own angle on the story and told Mashable that it was business as usual on the space station.
“Ongoing operations on the ISS continue on a normal basis with [an] expected launch of a new crew in the next few weeks,” a NASA spokesperson said. “We have not received any official notification from the Government of Russia on any changes in our space cooperation at this point.”
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