Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…

Failures Continue to Haunt the Russian Space Program

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 11, 2018
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A Proton takes a nose dive at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

The Soviet & Russian space programs have traditionally had a high launch rate, which also resulted in a fair number of partial and complete failures. For the past 30 years, the program has experienced 61 incidents or an average of about two per year. The current string of annual failures stretches back to 2004.

The chart below chronicles the partial and complete failures experienced over the last three decades. (Note: Some of the incidents involve Zenit boosters produced by former Soviet factories in Ukraine. These rockets usually fly with Russian-produced upper stages. Dnepr was also a joint program with Ukraine.)

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,
Uragan-M #750
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
KYuA 1
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.
61 October 11, 2018 Soyuz FG Soyuz MS-10 Failure Launch anomaly resulted in emergency landing for two-member crew

12 responses to “Failures Continue to Haunt the Russian Space Program”

  1. Mr Snarky Answer says:

    Alcohol is a pretty mediocre rocket fuel, but still better rocket fuel than human fuel while building spacecraft and launch vehicles. Just saying.

  2. Robert G. Oler says:

    this is what happens when you run out of money

    • windbourne says:

      Corners get cut.

    • Douglas Messier says:

      Everything is old. The technology. Facilities. Workforce. Strategic thinking. Russia coasted on Soviet-era success and enjoyed a large advantage in launch market share. That’s been demolished by SpaceX and NASA. U.S. is about to launch commercial crew. Russia’s newest rocket is Angara, which they don’t seem to want to use. And the whole enterprise is hobbled by fraud and waste on a massive scale.

  3. Jeff Smith says:

    Being a parachute packer is usually a pretty thankless job – you never use them until you need them. But on days like today, the LAS team just earned a cold one from those two.

    • envy says:

      Soyuz (and every other manned spacecraft) parachutes get used every trip. Even the Shuttle had a chute, though it was just for slowing down once already on the ground.

    • JS Initials says:

      It cost the life of one cosmonaut back in 1967 to get things right with their chutes a year later…The what ifs of history?… Had the Soviet space program heeded the warning from some of their engineers back in March/April 1967, they could have delayed their first manned Soyuz missions until October 1967 (10th anniversary of Sputnik) until the parachute, gas thruster and solar-panel deployment PROBLEMS could have been resolved
      in 6-7 months; and the first successful manned Soyuz mission could have occurred a year before it did in reality…It’s possible that Comrade Mishin could have ordered Gagarin to link
      up with an unmanned Soyuz to boost the assemblage to a 4,000 mile apogee that autumn.

      • ThomasLMatula says:

        Yep, it hard to believe at times, but the Soyuz actually predates the Apollo in terms of its first flight, and uses a launch vehicle that dates from the 1950’s. It was good that thunderstorms prevented the launch of Soyuz 2a or the loss of life would have been higher.

  4. delphinus100 says:

    No joy in Mudville…

  5. Saturn1300 says:

    But you see NASA and the Republicans was not worried. At the news conference NASA said the plan was always to de-crew ISS if Soyuz failed. So all those ideas of what to do by us were ignored or laughed at. So no backup. No discussion by Con-gress (Congress). They did not expend any thought to having a backup. Too bad if you have something on ISS you want to do. The plan is to de-crew. Neither did GAO. No need to do anything. The plan is to de-crew. A little money to have Crew Dragon 1 standby in storage. Nope, de-crew. What us worry? ISS man said we expect that Russia will find the problem quickly and ISS will be going round and round. They want the money from ISS to spend on the Moon. How dare the Democrats cancel their Moon plans.
    You see we take space serious. Not them. They get school children to name spacecraft. Like the 2 spacecraft on the Moon gravity mission. Eb and Flo. Get it?

    • JS Initials says:

      Forget Obama, the Bushes and Clinton were mostly TALK…and not really putting their (YOUR) money where their mouths were….What’s your point? Political hay? Or are you just
      trying to vent your political poison?

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