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.
WASHINGTON, DC (ILS PR) — ILS, a U.S.-based leading global commercial launch services provider and UK headquartered Effective Space announce their intent to contract to deliver two of Effective Space’s SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft into orbit. The Proton Breeze M rideshare launch is planned for 2020 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
“ILS is focused on serving the satellite industry with flexible, and affordable launch solutions and our agreement with Effective Space is a perfect example of that. The performance of the Proton Breeze M vehicle to deliver the SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft directly to geostationary orbit combined with our decades-long history of launching dual or multiple spacecraft at one time, makes it a natural fit for Proton to deploy their spacecraft,” said ILS President Kirk Pysher. “This combination of performance and experience will enable Effective Space to realize their mission objective in the most expedient and effective way possible.”
Roscosmos has denied that the Breeze-M upper stage used to send ESA’s ExoMars mission to Mars malfunctioned.
Briefing reporters in Moscow, Igor A. Komarov reiterated statements made by Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow, saying the Breeze-M upper stage separated ExoMars without incident and then proceeded with the standard passivation and collision-avoidance maneuvers.
Komarov said he had seen photos taken from a Brazilian ground telescope that appeared to show small objects in the vicinity of the Breeze-M stage and ExoMars.
“I do have these pictures, provided by the Brazilian observatory, showing the ExoMars spacecraft surrounded by some dimly illuminated objects reportedly related to the upper stage,” Komarov said.
“Telemetry and other objectively verifiable data available to us, covering the entire time from the separation and the contamination and collision avoidance maneuvers to the passivation of the upper stage, show that all these steps have been performed successfully, without any anomalies,” Komarov said. “There is absolutely no indication of an upper-stage explosion or breakup.”
The Russian roulette that is that nation’s launch industry nearly claimed Europe’s most ambitious planetary mission earlier this month.
That’s according to a report from Anatoly Zak in Popular Mechanics. Zak says there is evidence of an anomaly that sent pieces of the Proton launcher’s Briz-M upper stage into interplanetary space along with ESA’s ExoMars spacecraft.
That’s the Russian space program’s sad record since May 2009. The failure of a Proton rocket earlier today with the loss of a Mexican communications satellite was yet another sign of the prolonged crisis affecting Russia’s once powerful space program.
The crash came less than three weeks after a botched launch left a Progress supply freighter spinning end over end like an extra point before it burned up in Earth atmosphere. There was also news today that another Progress cargo ship attached to the International Space Station failed to fire its engine as planned to boost the station’s orbit.
The list of Russian launch accidents over the last six years includes:
13 complete failures resulting in the loss of all payloads;
3 partial failures that left spacecraft in the wrong orbits;
The spectacular crash of Russia’s Proton rocket on Tuesday — with the loss of three navigation satellites — was simply the latest in a series of launch failures that have bedeviled the Russian and Ukrainian space industries over the last 30 months.
The table below shows a tale of woe that began in December 2010 and has resulted in the loss of 15 spacecraft and cost the heads of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and launch vehicle builder Khrunichev their jobs.
RUSSIAN & UKRAINIAN LAUNCH FAILURES SINCE DECEMBER 2010
Dec. 5, 2010
3 GLONASS satellites
Crashed in Pacific Ocean
Block-DM overfilled with fuel making it too heavy to send satellites into orbit
Feb. 1, 2011
Stranded in useless orbit
Failed restart of Breeze-KM
Aug. 18, 2011
Stranded in useless orbit
Breeze-M under performance
Aug. 24, 2011
Block-I (3rd stage)
Progress M-12M freighter
Burned up over Siberia
Blocked fuel line in third stage
Sept. 27, 2011
ICBM (Possibly Avangard)
Missile failed during initial test, crashed 5 miles from launch site
Failure of first stage
Nov. 9, 2011
Stranded in Earth orbit, re-entered atmosphere
Fregat upper stage failure
Dec. 23, 2011
Re-entered over Siberia
Failure of Block-1 third stage engine
Aug. 23, 2012
Telkom 3 (Indonesia), Express MD2
Satellites stranded in useless orbits; Breeze-M later exploded, creating large debris field
Dec. 8, 2012
Placed satellite in wrong orbit; satellite reached planned orbit using on-board propellant
Early shutdown of Breeze-M
Jan. 15, 2013
3 Strela 3M Rodnik satellites
One satellite reportedly lost, two others placed in orbit; controllers unable to maneuver upper stage to lower orbit for rapid re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere
Previously on Planet Putin…. Yet another rocket launch went awry, plunging the Russian space program back into a crisis from which it failed to emerge last year. The two Dmitrys sprang into action, promising to name and shame those responsible and to turn around the floundering space program once and for all. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave Roscomos a month to come up with a plan to fix things. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin vowed to personally oversee the establishment of a new quality control system. Heads began to roll as a high-level official resigned. Meanwhile, Ruler for Life Vladimir Putin maintained a steely silence.
And yet despite this frenzy of activity, matters have somehow become even murkier…