News Column

Latest Rocket Crash Threatens Russian Space Program

July 2, 2013

A Russian Proton-M rocket exploded in mid-air over Kazakhstan on Tuesday, destroying three satellites destined for the country's navigation systems and resulting in 200 million dollars in damages.

Initial reports said no one was injured in the accident. First indications were that the rocket's propulsion system was to blame for Russia's third serious space accident this year.

The rocket, with 600 tonnes of highly toxic fuel on board, crashed just 17 seconds after takeoff from the cosmodrome. The crash site was located 2.5 kilometres from the launch pad, according to the Russian space authority Roskosmos. The wreckage created a crater measuring up to 200 metres in diameter.

Numerous buildings in the Baikonur space facility had to be evacuated because of the toxic fuel.

While most of it burned up in the explosion, there was a danger of the toxic cloud spreading, according to Kazakh civil defence minister Vladimir Boshko, as quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax.

Experts said that wind and rain were driving the remaining toxic gases away from the city of 71,000 inhabitants. However, residents living dozens of kilometres away were asked to keep their windows closed and to stay inside.

The satellites that were destroyed would have replaced out-of-service parts of the Glosnass navigation system, which Russia wants to rival the United States' system - GNS.

The latest incident could have significant repercussions for the Russian space industry. The main concern involves Russia's participation in the planned Exo-Mars project in 2016 and 2018, according to expert Juri Karasch.

Roskosmos and the European Space Agency want to look for traces of life on the Mars, and they plan to use Proton rockets for the missions.

"The Europeans could end the project altogether," said Karasch.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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