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Carrier rocket Proton-M burns up in dense layers of atmosphere

May 16, 6:30 updated at: May 16, 6:32 UTC+4 MOSCOW
Contact with the carrier rocket was lost in the 540th second after liftoff
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© ITAR-TASS/ Oleg Urusov

MOSCOW, May 16. /ITAR-TASS/. The carrier rocket Proton-M, which was launched from Baikonur together with the communications satellite Express-AM4R, has burnt up in the dense layers of the atmosphere, an official of Russia's Federal Space Agency has told Itar-Tass.

"Some small fragments of the rocket could fall onto Earth. An impact area is being ascertained," the space official said. According to the data given by him, the engine of the third stage of the carrier rocket failed at an altitude of 161 km because of deviation of the Proton-M from the flight path. "There was an angle-and-bank error," he said.

According to the source, the toxic components of the rocket fuel remaining in the third stage of the Proton and the booster unit Briz-M most likely burned up in the dense layers of the atmosphere. Satellites of the Exress series have been insured for 2.5 billion roubles.

Contact was lost in the 540th second

An emergency cutout of the propulsion unit of the Proton-M carrier rocket occurred between the separation of the second and third stages, an official at Roscosmos (Russia's Federal Space Agency) has told Itar-Tass.

"Contact with the carrier rocket was lost in the 540th second after liftoff," the official specified, adding, "It is known that the nose cone did not separate from the rocket". Third-stage engines for Proton space rockets are manufactured at the Voronezh-based OAO "Khimavtomatika Design Bureau" (KBKhA) space-rocket industry enterprise.

The carrier rocket Proton-M was to deploy into orbit the highest-powered and technologically effective commsat which was intended to become a third spacecraft of the Express series launched in 2014.

Non-deployment of the satellite

The non-deployment of the communications satellite Express-AM4R into orbit was caused by an abnormal situation, Irina Zubareva, press secretary of the Roscosmos director, told Itar-Tass on Friday.

"An abnormal situation developed during the insertion in the operation of the third stage of the carrier rocket, and the spacecraft Express-AM4R was not deployed into orbit. State commission members are now busy analyzing telemetric data, seeking to find out the causes of the abnormal situation," she said.

Where did fragments of Proton-M fall 

Fragments of the carrier rocket could fall in unforeseen debris impact areas, a space industry source has told Itar-Tass. "In any case, Proton-M rocket fragments did not fall in the grounds of Baikonur, or in general in the territory of Kazakhstan. Most probably, this happened (when the rocket was) already far away, in an off-normal impact area," the source said.

"All the causes and a possible impact area are being ascertained. No information has been received from Baikonur so far, since people monitoring the Proton-M liftoff are in a bunker at the moment of liftoff proper," the source specified. He added, "The breakdown occurred during the operation of the third stage of the carrier rocket, prior to the acceleration unit's separation".

"The Proton-M carrier rocket at this moment is most likely in a non-intended orbit. The propulsion unit emergency cutout, which happened in the 540th second (of the flight) during the operation of the third stage, was not necessarily to result in its fall," a source at Russia's Federal Space Agency has told Itar-Tass.

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