Quoting industry sources, the Russian Federal Space Agency announced that the December 5 launch of three GLONASS-M satellites ended in failure when the Proton-M rocket’s Block DM upper stage and its three payloads crashed into the Pacific Ocean about 1,500 kilometers, or 932 miles, northwest of Honolulu. Although an investigation will look into the exact cause of the failure, early unconfirmed reports indicate a software error.
Apparently, the Proton carrier’s third stage deviated from its planned trajectory.
The three satellites were launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. According to telemetry, the carrier rocket’s upper stage containing the satellites was launched into a “non-targeted orbit.” According to a BBC news report, the upper stage and GLONASS-M navigation satellite payload crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. BBC news also reported that sources informed them that the launch rocket had deviated by eight degrees from its intended path after launch.
The Russian Federal Space Agency reported that a “special board has been established to find out the cause of the contingency and to define the next steps.”
According to the Russian News Agency RIA Novosti, incorrect calculations were loaded into the rocket’s onboard computer missiles. As a result, the rocket engine provided too much momentum, leading to the deviation of the vehicle from its planned trajectory.
RIA Novosti also reported that because of the accident, the pace of satellite launches will have to be accelerated. For example, the launch scheduled for September 2011 is likely to take place earlier.
The new generation GLONASS-K satellite is due to launch later this month from the northern Plesetsk cosmodrome.
Video of the pre-launch rocket delivery can be viewed here:
There are currently 20 operational GLONASS satellites, with another four undergoing maintenance and two reserved as spares.