It was the second failure for Russia's workhorse Proton-M rocket
in less than a year, and the second time that it had failed to
deliver a European satellite intended to provide advanced telecoms
and Internet access to remote parts of Russia, after the last one
crashed shortly after launch in 2011.
Friday's unmanned mission went awry when the engine on the third
stage of the Proton-M booster rocket failed, Oleg Ostapenko, head of
the Russian space agency Roskosmos, told Russian news agencies. He
said the precise cause was unknown.
The failure occurred at an altitude of 160 km (100 miles), about
nine minutes after the early-morning lift-off from the
Russian-leased Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan.
The state-run RIA quoted Ostapenko as saying that the rocket and all
debris had burned up in the atmosphere: "We can say with certainty
that nothing reached Earth."
However, Russian media said some debris may have fallen into the
Pacific or been scattered over Siberia and Russia's Far East. No
casualties or damage were reported on the ground.
The lost Express AM4R satellite, worth more than 200 million euros
($275 million), was described by its maker Astrium, a unit of the
European aerospace group Airbus AIR.PA, as one of the most powerful
satellites built in Europe.
Its loss delays a number of commercial projects by three to four
"It's a heavy blow, of course. And the thing is that our workhorse
rocket - our most powerful and the most-used rocket - has such a bad
record," Ivan Moiseyev, head of the Russian-based Institute of Space
Policy think tank, told Kommersant-FM radio.
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He said the rocket had a 7 percent failure rate, and its
unreliability was making it harder for Russia to compete in the
multibillion-dollar global satellite launch industry, giving a boost
to its European rival Arianespace and the American newcomer SpaceX.
"It's a very unsuccessful picture on the whole and, if you compare
it with our main competitors, with Europe, their last accident was
12 years ago," Moiseyev said.
Last July, three navigation satellites worth about $200 million were
lost when the Proton-M rocket crashed near the launch pad shortly
That accident strained relations between Kazakhstan and Russia and
led Kazakhstan to temporarily ban Proton launches from Baikonur.
State-run Rossiya-24 television said all launches had been suspended
from Kazakhstan after Friday's failure.
(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by Jason Bush and Timolthy
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