Criminal Proceedings Opened in Proton Crash, Premature Liftoff Possible Cause

Criminal Proceedings Opened in Proton Crash, Premature Liftoff Possible Cause

Russia has opened a criminal proceeding regarding the crash of the Proton-M rocket earlier this week.  Premature liftoff appears to have been the cause. 

Citing an Investigative Committee official, Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency reports that “Criminal proceedings were initiated over signs of crime envisioned by Article 216, Part of Russia’s penal code/violation of safety rules in mining, construction, or other kinds of work which caused large damages.”  The case will be supervised by the Baikonur prosecutor’s office, which “will also check compliance with the legislation concerning ‘pre-launch preparations and launches of rocket equipment’.”  Baikonur is a city in Kazakhstan that serves the Baikonur Cosmodrome, from which the Proton rocket (and many other Russian rockets) are launched.  Russia leases the Baikonur complex from Kazakhstan.

Russia’s space agency, Roskosmos, established a commission to investigate the failure. The Interfax news agency quotes an unnamed source close the investigation as saying that the rocket lifted off “nearly half a second ahead of time. Hence the engines had not reached the necessary thrust capacity” and an automated emergency system, detecting the problem, directed the rocket away from the pad.  

The Proton-M rocket, carrying three Russian GLONASS navigation satellites, crashed dramatically 17 seconds after liftoff on July 1 Eastern Daylight Time (July 2 local time at the launch site).  It crashed about 2.5 kilometers from the launch pad.   No one was injured.

Russian news sources report that the rocket was insured for about $200 million, but that the satellites were not insured, a loss of $75 million.

This launch was for the Russian government, but many Proton launches are for commercial customers sold through International Launch Services (ILS).  ILS has established its own Failure Review Oversight Board that will review the findings of the Roskosmos commission.    The impact of the failure on the schedule for Proton launches remains unclear.  The next Proton launch, of the SES Astra 2-T satellite, was scheduled for July 20.  

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