The fall of the Russian rocket with a communications satellite over the weekend was another blow to the national space program. Unmanned Proton-M, carrying the Mexsat-1 satellite for the Mexican government on its board, crashed shortly after launch near the Kazakhstan cosmodrome Baikonur on Saturday (May 16). The failure of the third-stage proton engine was discovered eight minutes after the start, officials of Roskosmos, the Federal Space Agency of Russia, said in a brief statement after the accident.
“The accident occurred at an altitude of 161 kilometers (100 miles),” the officials wrote. "The third stage, the upper stage and the entire spacecraft are almost completely burned in the atmosphere," they added.
The Saturday crash occurred less than three weeks after a crash that occurred with another Russian Soyuz carrier rocket carrying Progress space truck, which was sent into space with cargo for the International Space Station.
Progress 59, which loaded about 3 tons of food, fuel and other materials for the orbital laboratory, was launched on a Soyuz launch vehicle from the Baikonur cosmodrome on April 28. But, soon after separation from the Union, Progress 59 began to spin erratically, and engineers could not keep it under control. All cargoes burned over the Pacific Ocean on May 7th. A preliminary investigation showed that the failure occurred due to the fault of the very early separation of the third stage of the Union, representatives of Roskosmos said. The final accident report for Progress 59 is expected to be released on Friday (May 22).
The Union is currently engaged only in the transport of astronauts from the space station. As a result of the Progress 59 incident, NASA, Roscosmos and its partners decided to repeat the launch attempt two months later, until the end of July. This move, in turn, prompted the partners to leave on board the station until the beginning of June three astronauts, whose return was planned last week.
The accident on Saturday, meanwhile, was the seventh serious malfunction of the Proton rocket in the last 4, 5 years, and almost a year has passed since the last failure. On May 15, 2014, Proton carrying the communications satellite Express-AM4R fell just nine minutes after launch from Baikonur.
Rockets of the Proton family have been in operation since the 1960s. Proton-M is 174 feet tall (53 meters). The spacecraft has undergone in its development three stages of modification since that time, although experts often also mention the fourth, known as Briz-M.