2 Jul 2013

Spectacular failure of tried-and-tested Russian rocket

These spectacular images (see video below) show the dying seconds of a Russian Proton-M rocket as it swerved out of control seconds after launch at the Baikonur space port in Khazakstan.

The rocket and its cargo – three satellites forming part of Russia’s £6 billion GLONASS navigation system – were destroyed. No casualties were reported.

Things start going wrong about 10 seconds into the launch and the rocket’s guidance system seems to struggle to keep the booster on course. Control is then lost completely before the rocket explodes just before impact.

The crash ignited around 600 tonnes of fuel including a substance called heptyl or unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine. A particularly nasty propellant, heptyl is highly toxic and carcinogenic. However officials from Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, insist nearly all the heptyl on board the rocket was burned up during the explosion.

“It is burning out right now so the consequences will be minor. The major threat is poisonous fumes from the burning fuel, and the major task now is to make sure that nobody gets into the heptyl smoke.” Igor Marinin, of Russia’s Cosmonautics magazine told Russia Today

Partially burned heptyl has been blamed for ecological damage and human health problems downwind of Baikonur for decades.

Residents in the nearby area have been told to close windows and stay indoors to avoid exposure to the fumes from the blast.

The Proton rocket has been in use since the 1960s and yesterday’s was the 388th launch of a Proton, making it one of the most successful vehicles in the history of spaceflight.

However there have been a number of recent incidents involving Russian rockets including the loss in 2011 of a resupply mission to the International Space Station on a Soyuz rocket.

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