Russian rocket fails to reach target orbit
MOSCOW -- Russia's space pride suffered another blow yesterday when a booster rocket failed to place two communications satellites into target orbits, a day after a NASA robotic vehicle successfully landed on Mars.
The Roscosmos space agency said the Proton-M rocket was launched just before midnight Monday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The booster's first stages worked, but the upper stage intended to give the final push to the satellites switched off prematurely.
The malfunction stranded the Russian Express MD-2 and Indonesia's Telkom-3 satellites in a low orbit where they can't be recovered, the agency said.
"The satellites can be considered lost," Roscosmos spokeswoman Anna Vedishcheva said on Rossiya television.
The failure comes a day after NASA's roving laboratory, the size of a compact car, landed on Mars after an eight-month, 352-million-mile journey.
A few months before, a Soyuz booster rocket similar to those ferrying crews and cargo to the International Space Station failed, prompting officials to consider leaving the space outpost unmanned. The Russians eventually tracked down the reason, saying it was caused by "accidental" manufacturing flaws and the Soyuz launches resumed.
Russia lost three navigation satellites in December 2010, then a military satellite in February 2011 and a telecommunications satellite that August.
The botched launches were blamed on the post-Soviet industrial meltdown that stymied modernization of a once-proud space program, which put the first satellite in orbit and the first human into space.