Proton Rocket With GLONASS Explodes in Massive Fireball


Video courtesy of Roscosmos

A Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) Proton rocket carrying three GLONASS navigation satellites went out of control, resulting in a huge explosion. Shortly after liftoff on Monday, June 1, the Proton can be seen swaying wildly side to side, before arcing back toward Earth and plummeting into the ground and exploding in a massive fireball. The fairing, with its multi-satellite payload, can be seen tearing free of the Proton rocket about six seconds before the launch vehicle slams into the ground. Liftoff occurred at 2:38 p.m. UTC (10:38 p.m. EDT) from Baikonur Cosmodrone in Kazakhstan. UTC and the entire flight lasted for a little over half a minute.

412px-Proton_Zvezda_ rocket NASA image posted on AmericaSpace
Photo Credit: NASA

While U.S. rockets are required to have a flight termination hardware (which destroys the rocket in the event control of the vehicle is lost), the Russians place no such requirements on their rockets, a fact made apparent during Monday night’s accident. This most recent disaster is one among several that have occurred over the past two years.

In 2011, a Progress spacecraft was lost on the way to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying some three tons of supplies to the orbiting laboratory. This past April, another Progress suffered several failures leading some to believe that when the spacecraft finally docked with the space station, it might have damaged the ISS.

The Proton Rocket has been in service for nearly 50 years. It was initially designed and developed to be a ballistic missile, delivering nuclear warheads to targets rather than spacecraft to orbit. During the early years of its production it suffered a number of failures. This latest iteration has been used to deliver elements of the ISS to orbit.

GLONASS stands for Globalnaya navigatsionnaya sputnikovaya sistema, or Global Navigation Satellite System. This satellite navigation system is radio-based and is used by the Russian military. This system serves as a complimentary service to the United States’ Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system; it also competes with it.

GLONASS was developed by the former Soviet Union in the mid 1970s. The Soviet Union and subsequent Russian Federal Space Agency dedicated numerous launches to establish the constellation of satellites. Current Russian President Vladimir Putin has made GLONASS a high priority. By some estimates, the GLONASS system has devoured about 33 percent of the Russian Federal Space Agency’s budget.

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