by Douglas Messier
Over the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of Russia’s annual launch failures. For reasons I can’t quite recall, the table I’ve used only went back to 2009.
Recently, I saw a graphic on a Russian website about launch failures, and I realized I hadn’t gone back far enough. So, I dug into the records of the last 30 years from 1988 through 2017, which covers Russia and the last four years of the Soviet Union.
And holy crap! There were a helluva lot of them. Launch failures are not a bug in the system, they’re a feature.
The table below shows all the failed and partially failed launches from 1988 to 2017. I’ve included the causes of the failures where possible. I wasn’t able to find causes for five of the launches; if anyone has reliable sources on these flights please let me know in the comments section.
|RUSSIAN LAUNCH FAILURES, 1988 – 2017|
|1||January 18, 1988||Proton-K Blok-DM-2||Gorizont 25L||Failure||Third stage failure due to disintegration of propellant feed line|
|2||February 17, 1988||Proton-K Blok-DM-2||Uragan #23, Uragan #24, Uragan #25||Partial Failure||Blok D failure caused by ingestion of debris|
|3||July 09, 1988||Soyuz-U||Yantar-4KS1 #10||Failure|
|4||July 27, 1988||Soyuz-U||Resurs-F1||Failure||First stage engine failure.|
|5||November 11, 1988||Soyuz-U||Yantar-4KS1 #11||Failure|
|6||June 9, 1989||Tsiklon-3||Okean-O1 #4||Failure|
|7||April 3, 1990||Soyuz-U||Yantar-4K2 #51||Failure|
|8||June 21, 1990||Molniya-M (Blok-2BL)||Kosmos 2084||Partial Failure||Placed in an incorrect orbit. Satellite did not communicate with ground|
|9||July 3, 1990||Soyuz-U||Yantar-4K2 #53||Failure|
|10.||August 9, 1990||Proton-K Blok-DM-2||Ekran-M 14L||Failure||Third stage lost thrust due to a cleaning rag inside propellant feed system|
|11||October 4, 1990||Zenit-2||Tselina-2 #8||Failure||First stage engine failure five seconds after launch.|
|12||June 25, 1991||Kosmos-3M||Taifun-2 #26||Failure||Second stage malfunction|
|13||August 30, 1991||Zenit-2||Tselina-2 #9||Failure||Second stage explosion|
|14||February 5, 1992||Zenit-2||Tselina-2 #10||Failure||Second stage failure|
|15||May 27, 1993||Proton-K Blok-DM-2||Gorizont 39L||Failure||Third stage failure|
|16||May 25, 1994||Tsiklon-3||Tselina-D #69||Failure||Software error prevented third stage separation|
|17||March 28, 1995||Start||Gurwin 1, EKV, OSCAR 29||Failure||Failed to orbit, crashed into the Sea of Okhotsk|
|18||October 6, 1995||Kosmos-3M||Kosmos 2321 (Parus #84)||Partial Failure||Second stage malfunction, placed in useless orbit|
|19||February 19, 1996||Proton-K Blok-DM-2||Raduga 33||Partial Failure||Blok-DM-2 upper stage failed to restart to circularize orbit|
|20||May 14, 1996||Soyuz-U||Yantar-1KFT #18||Failure||Payload fairing disintegrated in flight|
|21||June 20, 1996||Soyuz-U||Yantar-4K2 #76||Failure||Payload fairing disintegrated in flight|
|22||November 16, 1996||Proton-K Blok-D-2||Mars ’96||Partial Failure||Probe re-entered atmosphere after fourth stage failure|
|23||May 20, 1997||Zenit-2||Tselina-2 #19||Failure||First stage failure|
|24||December 24, 1997||Proton-K Blok-DM3||AsiaSat 3||Partial Failure||Fourth stage malfunction prevented satellite from reaching geosynchronous orbit; salvaged with lunar flyby|
|25||June 15, 1998||Tsiklon-3||Strela-3 #119, Strela-3 #120, Strela-3 #121, Strela-3 #122, Strela-3 #123, Strela-3 #124||Partial Failure||Third stage malfunction left satellites in unintended elliptical orbit|
|26||September 09, 1998||Zenit-2||Globalstar 5, Globalstar 7, Globalstar 9, Globalstar 10, Globalstar 11, Globalstar 12, Globalstar 13, Globalstar 16, Globalstar 17, Globalstar 18, Globalstar 20, Globalstar 21||Failure||Second stage shut down after guidance system failed|
|27||July 05, 1999||Proton-K Briz-M||Raduga (34) (Gran 45L)||Failure||Second stage failure|
|28||October 27, 1999||Proton-K Blok-DM-2M||Ekspress-A 1||Failure||Second stage failure|
|29||December 24, 1999||Rokot-K||RVSN 40||Failure||Stage-separation fired before launch|
|30||November 20, 2000||Kosmos-3M||QuickBird 1 (QB 1)||Failure||Second stage failed to ignite|
|31||December 27, 2000||Tsiklon-3||Gonets 7, Gonets 8, Gonets 9, Strela-3 #125, Strela-3 #126, Strela-3 #127||Failure||Third stage failure|
|32||October 15, 2002||Soyuz-U||Foton-M 1||Failure||First stage exploded seconds after launch|
|33||November 25, 2002||Proton-K Blok-DM3||Astra 1K||Failure||Blok-DM3 left satellite in unusable orbit; spacecraft de-orbited 15 days after launch|
|34||Dec. 24, 2004||Tsiklon-3||Sich 1M, Micron 1||Partial Failure||Booster failed to circularize orbit|
|35||June 21, 2005||Molniya-M Blok-ML||Molniya-3K||Failure||Third stage failure|
|36||June 21, 2005||Volna-O||Cosmos 1||Failure||Cosmos Studios/The Planetary Society solar sail satellite failed to separate from booster third stage|
|37||August 10, 2005||Rokot Briz-KM||Cryosat||Failure||Second stage failure; crashed in Arctic Ocean north of Greenland|
|38||February 28, 2006||Proton-M Briz-M||Arabsat 4A (Badr 1)||Failure||Failed to reach usable orbit; de-orbited 24 days after launch|
|39||July 26, 2006||Dnepr||BelKa 1, Baumanets 1, Unisat 4, PicPot, CP 1, CP 2, HAUSAT 1, ICECube 1, ICECube 2, ION, KUTESat-Pathfinder, Mea Huaka’i, MEROPE, Ncube 1, Rincon 1, SACRED SEEDS, AeroCube 1||Failure||Engine failure|
|40||Sept. 5, 2007||Proton-M/Briz-M||JCSat 11||Failure||Second stage failure; booster and payload crashed in Kazakhstan|
|41||March 14, 2008||Proton-M/Briz-M||AMC 14||Partial Failure||Briz-M upper stage shut down 2 minutes early. Owner SES Americom declared satellite a complete loss. AMC 14 sold to US Department of Defense which manuevered into geosynchronous orbit using on-board thrusters.|
|42||May 21, 2009||Soyuz-2.1a/ Fregat||Meridian 2||Failure||Second stage shut down early, Fregat upper stage ran out of fuel trying to compensate. Satellite left in useless orbit, declared a loss by Russian military.|
|43||Dec. 5, 2010||Proton-M/ Blok-DM-3||Uragan-M #739, Uragan-M #740, Uragan-M #741||Failure||Rocket failed to reach orbital velocity after upper stage overfilled with propellant.|
|44||Feb. 1, 2011||Rokot/Briz-KM||Geo-IK-2 No. 11||Failure||Upper stage malfunction.|
|45||Aug. 17, 2011||Proton-M/ Briz-M||Ekspress AM4||Failure||Briz-M upper stage suffered failure of attitude control.|
|46||Aug. 24, 2011||Soyuz-U||Progress M-12||Failure||Third stage failure due to turbo-pump duct blockage.|
|47||Nov. 8, 2011||Zenit-2SB/ Fregat||Phobos-Grunt|
|Failure||Zenit placed Phobos-Grunt in proper orbit. Spacecraft stranded in Earth orbit after Fregat failed to fire.|
|48||Dec. 23, 2011||Soyuz-2.1b/ Fregat||Meridian 5||Failure||Third stage failure.|
|49||Aug. 6, 2012||Proton-M/ Briz-M||Telkom-3, Ekspress MD2||Failure||Briz-M upper stage failed 7 seconds into its third burn.|
|50||Dec. 8, 2012||Proton-M/ Briz-M||Yamal-402||Partial Failure||Briz-M upper stage shut down 4 minutes earlier than planned on fourth burn. Spacecraft reached intended orbit under own power.|
|51||Jan. 15, 2013||Rokot/Briz-KM||Kosmos 2482, Kosmos 2483, Kosmos 2484||Partial Failure||Upper stage failed near time of spacecraft separation; one satellite destroyed.|
|52||Feb. 1, 2013||Zenit-3SL (Sea Launch)||Intelsat 27||Failure||First stage failure.|
|53||July 2, 2013||Proton-M/DM-03||Uragan-M #748, Uragan-M #749,|
|Failure||First stage failure.|
|54||May 15, 2014||Proton-M/Briz-M||Ekspress AM4R||Failure||Proton third stage vernier engine failure due to turbo-pump leak.|
|55||Aug. 14, 2014||Soyuz-STB/ Fregat||Galileo FOC-1, Galileo FOC-2||Partial Failure||Satellites placed in wrong orbits due to freezing of hydrazine in Fregat upper stage. Satellites made operational as part of Europe’s Galileo navigation constellation.|
|56||April 28, 2015||Soyuz-2.1a||Progress 59P||Failure||Third stage failure left Progress in uncontrollable tumble.|
|57||May 16, 2015||Proton/Briz-M||MexSat-1||Failure||Third stage failure anomaly.|
|58||December 5, 2015||Soyuz-2.1v/ Volga||Kanopus ST|
|Partial Failure||Primary payload Kanopus ST remained attached to upper stage, later burned up in atmosphere. Secondary payload KYuA 1 deployed successfully.|
|59||December 1, 2016||Soyuz U||Progress MS-04||Failure||Third stage failure. Progress supply ship burned up in atmosphere.|
|60||November 28, 2017||Soyuz 2-1b||Meteor-M 2-1, 18 CubeSats||Failure||Fregat upper stage failure.|
I’ve included some launches of some boosters such as Zenit and Dnepr boosters that were not totally Russian. Sea Launch uses boosters composed of Ukrainian and Russian elements. Until 2010, Sea Launch was owned by a consortium of Russian, Ukrainian, American and Norwegian partners. Since then, Sea Launch has been majority owned by Russian companies.
Part of the reason they’ve had so many failures is that historically, the Soviet and Russian space programs have tended to launch more times than any of the world’s space powers. When you figure that a certain percentage of all boosters will fail in some way, then you end up with a relatively high number.
The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the space program spread across three countries. Russia retained the majority of the production capacity while most of the rest was in Ukraine. The principle spaceport, Baikonur, ended up in the new nation of Kazakhstan.
The chaotic transition to a market economy in the 1990’s also left Russia’s space program in dire straits. Although Russian rockets became competitive in the satellite launch market, there was a serious lack of investment by the federal government in upgrading facilities and developing new space technologies.
Russian dominance in the launch market has been challenged in recent years due to failures, quality control problems, and the rise of SpaceX. Russia finished third in launches in 2016 with only 19 behind the United States and China. Russia improved its total to 21 in 2017, which was still low by historical standards.