Zak: Zenit Rocket Failure Likely Caused by Malfunctioning Pump

Zak: Zenit Rocket Failure Likely Caused by Malfunctioning Pump

Anatoly Zak at reports that the most likely reason Sea Launch’s Zenit 3SL rocket failed last week is a pump that malfunctioned 4.5 seconds after liftoff.

Zak, a New York-based Russian space program expert, is summarizing comments that are being posted to a Russian-language forum associated with Russia’s Novosti Kosmonavitki (Space News) magazine.  While the postings to that forum are not official, they often provide reliable information based on industry and other sources.   They point the finger at the Ukrainian-built BIM — Bortovoi Istochnik Moshnosti (Onboard Power Source) — pump. 

The first two stages of Zenit 3SL are Ukrainian, the third stage is Russian.   The company Sea Launch is 95 percent owned by Russia’s Energia RSC.

Once the pump failed at 4.5 seconds into the launch, the main engine’s gimbal mechanism could not function to steer the rocket according to Zak’s summary.  He provides many details, but, briefly, after 16 seconds the rocket exceeded a deviation limit and triggered an automatic shutdown command from the flight control system.  It crashed 56 seconds after liftoff, 2.5 kilometers from its mobile launch platform in the Pacific Ocean.

The rocket was launching the Intelsat 27 satellite, which was lost in the crash.

This is the latest in a string of Russian launch failures of various rockets and upper stages since December 2010. 

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