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Russia loses Mexican satellite after rocket failure
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) May 16, 2015

Fragments of the carrier rocket, which contained several tons of toxic fuel, fell back to Earth over Siberia's Chita region, space industry sources said, while Russia's emergencies ministry said there was no damage or injuries on the ground.

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 the Proton-M rocket carrying a Mexican MexSat-1 satellite fell back to Earth and burnt up in the atmosphere after suffering an engine problem on launch early Saturday.

Just over eight minutes after launch, an "emergency situation was recorded with the engines of the third stage of the carrier rocket", the space agency said.

The accident took place at an altitude of 161 kilometres (100 miles), high enough for the rocket to burn up as it plunged back to Earth, it said.

"The third stage rocket, the upper stage and the satellite almost completely burnt up in the atmosphere," it said. "At the moment there have been no reports of falling non-combusted fragments."

Fragments of the carrier rocket, which contained several tons of toxic fuel, fell back to Earth over Siberia's Chita region, space industry sources said, while Russia's emergencies ministry said there was no damage or injuries on the ground.

A commission involving various space industry bodies will look at the reasons for the accident and "take the corresponding decisions," the space agency said.

The accident commission was due to meet Sunday morning at 10 am (0600 GMT) to discuss the failed launch, a space industry source told Interfax news agency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "naturally was informed" of the satellite failure, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, cited by Interfax, declining further comment.

Russia last year reacted to previous space failures by sacking the head of the space agency.

'Negative record'
Russia's space programme has experienced a troubling number of accidents in recent weeks.

The failed satellite launch came just hours after a separate glitch in which a Russian Progress spacecraft docked to the ISS failed to switch on its engines at the command of mission control in a planned manoeuvre to shift the ISS into a higher orbit.

The Progress space freighter was to have lifted the ISS's orbit in preparation for the next astronauts' return to Earth set for early June.

On April 28, another Progress resupply ship heading to the ISS lost communications and crashed to Earth after an apparent problem with its Soyuz rocket.

This has prompted delays in the ferrying of astronauts to and from the orbiting station, which currently has 6 crew aboard.

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 that she pulled out over safety fears.

RIA Novosti state news agency criticised what it called "a negative record for Roscosmos -- several accidents in space in three weeks."

The Mexican satellite launch took place at 8:47 am Moscow time (0547 GMT) from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Proton-M carrier rocket has been Russia's main workhorse used for launches of Western and Asian satellites that earn millions of dollars, but in recent years it has suffered a litany of failures and has been repeatedly grounded.

A space industry source told RIA Novosti that a second attempt to switch on the Progress's engines might be made on Monday unless checks found "serious problems."

A previous Progress supply ship crashed in Siberia shortly after launch in 2011.

Since the mothballing of the US Space Shuttle programme, Moscow has had a monopoly on sending astronauts to the ISS from its Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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