Today a Russian Proton M Rocket exploded less than a minute after launch in a spectacular fireball. On board were three GLONASS navigation satellites. The cost of this loss is upwards of $200 million dollars. The rocket lifts off of the launch pad normally but about 17 seconds after lift off you can see the rocket appear to weave as the control system appears to be making corrections, making the rocket more and more unstable in flight.
The Proton rocket actually inverts in flight. When it does the payload fairing comes off and you can see parts of the satellites fall out as the rocket falls to the ground and explodes. “The rocket plummeted back to the territory of the cosmodrome “Boykonur”, about 2.5 kilometers from the launch site,” said spokesperson of Roskosmos. There were about 600 tons of toxic fuel aboard the rocket.
“It’s either the control system or the engine that has caused the accident. If the accident occurred in the first 10 to 20 seconds, than the engine is likely to be the cause,”. “There was an emergency engine shutdown. Most of the fuel was expended before the rocket hit the ground. Naturally the explosion formed a toxic cloud, but due to windy weather it fell as rain in the cosmodrome “Boykonur” and it is not dangerous for people and communities at all,” said Roskosmos.
It is interesting to note that the range safety officer did not detonate the rocket in flight when it veered off of course. Normally when attitude control is lost there are strict guidelines which trigger the safety officer to destroy the rocket in flight. Maybe he had to much vodka the night before.
While this was a spectacular failure the Proton is arguably one of the most reliable rockets in use today. It has been the mainstay not only of the Russian space program but also the United States. The U.S. uses these rockets to ferry astronauts and payloads to the international space station.