Russia on Saturday lost a Mexican satellite on launch just hours after a glitch with a manoeuvre involving the International Space Station, the latest in a string of embarrassing failures for its troubled space programme.
Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said in a brief statement that a Proton-M rocket carrying a Mexican satellite had suffered a problem on launch early on Saturday.
“An emergency situation took place when the Proton-M rocket launched with a MexSat-1 satellite. The reasons are being identified,” the agency said.
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“The Mexican satellite is lost. Launches of rockets of the Proton type will be grounded until the reason is identified,” a source in the space industry told RIA Novosti state news agency.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “naturally was informed” of the satellite failure, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, cited by the Interfax news agency, declining further comment.
The failure came just hours after a separate glitch in which a Russian Progress spacecraft docked to the ISS failed to switch on its engines on command from mission control in a planned manoeuvre to shift the ISS into a higher orbit.
Russia’s space programme has experienced a troubling number of accidents in recent years.
RIA Novosti state news agency criticised what it called “a negative record for Roscosmos — several accidents in space in three weeks.”
On April 28, another Progress supply ship heading to the ISS lost communications and crashed to Earth in an apparent problem with its Soyuz rocket, prompting delays in the ferrying of astronauts to and from the orbiting station.
British singer Sarah Brightman announced Wednesday that she would not fly to the ISS as a space tourist in September as planned, citing personal reasons. Russian media speculated she pulled out over safety fears.
The Mexican satellite launch took place at 8:47 am Moscow time from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The Proton-M rocket lost communications with the ground about a minute before the satellite was supposed to separate from the third stage rocket.
The third stage rocket’s engine accidentally switched off, Russian news agencies reported, citing space industry sources.
Russia earns millions of dollars from the launches of Western and Asian commercial satellites.