Spaceflight Insider

MexSat-1, or Centenario, crashes in Siberia shortly after launch

A Proton rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (file photo). Photo Credit: Roscosmos

A Proton rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (file photo). Photo Credit: Roscosmos

After 5 years of development and a few launch delays, Mexico will have to wait even longer for its new series of satellites. A failure in the third stage of the Proton-M rocket led to the spacecraft crashing into the outback of Siberia just minutes after liftoff. The satellite was to be the first in a new series of communications platforms for the government.

Designed by the Boeing company, the Mexican Centenario, or MexSat-1, launched at 1:47 a.m. EDT (05:47 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan using the Russian Proton-M rocket. The launch vehicle was equipped with a Briz-M upper stage.

The Proton-M rocket lifts off the pad with the Cenenario/MexSat-1 satellite aboard. Photo Credit:

The Proton-M rocket lifts off the pad with the Centenario/MexSat-1 satellite aboard. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

Not much is yet known about what may have caused the crash. Engineers detected an anomaly with the third stage, and telemetry had failed shortly before the satellite should have been inserted into orbit. An accident investigation team is working on retaining data and will determine the root cause of the malfunction.

“The failure happened at an altitude of 161 kilometers. The third stage, the booster vehicle and the spacecraft completely burned up in [the] atmosphere. As of now, there are no reports of debris reaching the ground,” said a statement released by Roscosmos, according to RT.

This is the second loss of a cargo for the Russian space program in less than a month. Progress M-27M was lost after an issue with the third stage of its Soyuz launcher caused the vehicle to be placed in a sub-optimal orbit with an uncontrolled spin. That launch has caused a delay in the next manned mission to the International Space Station (ISS). This latest mishap may delay that mission even further.

The satellite was designed to expand coverage for Mexico and was to be used for secure communications. The spacecraft carried transponders in the Ku and L bands. Power was to be provided by 2 five-segment solar arrays producing up to 14 kW of energy. The spacecraft had a mass of more than 11,740 pounds (5,325 kg) and had a planned operational life of 15 years. Its final destination was a geostationary orbit of 8,985 by 35,786 kilometers with an orbital point at 113 degrees West and an inclination of 20.1 degrees.

The Proton-M rocket is powered at liftoff by six RD-275M engines. Nominally, after a burn time of just over 2 minutes, the second stage cuts in and burns for 3 more minutes using its cluster of four engines. The Briz-M upper stage uses an S5.98 engine to propel payload to its final operational location.

Proton-M waiting on the pad with MexSat-1, before the launch that ended in failure. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

Proton-M waiting on the pad with MexSat-1 before the launch that ended in failure. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

The launch of MexSat-1 was originally scheduled for April 29, 2015, but the launch was postponed when Boeing asked for more time to inspect the vehicle for possible defects. An anomaly was found on MexSat-1’s twin, Morelos-3. Therefore, Boeing decided to take the precautionary step to verify the problem did not exist on MexSat-1 as well. After troubleshooting the L-Band system, the spacecraft was cleared for launch and a new date had been set.

With the loss of this spacecraft, Russia’s space program has been handed a serious setback. The workhorse fleet just might need an overhaul that could delay space operations for some time. A number of launches have resulted in failure due to issues with the Proton, and some specifically due to problems with the Briz-M upper stage, including Ekspress-AM4 in August 2011 and Telkom 3 and Ekspress-MD2 in August 2012, to name a few. Then Ekspress-AM4R was lost in 2014, one year ago to the day (in the time zone of the launches).


Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.

Reader Comments

This is *NOT* good news for ILS: eight failures or major anomalies in 43 flights over a period of less than five years. I guess Putin will be sending more aerospace managers to Siberia before all is said and done.

Great story. One question, will this effect Russia’s manned space program and does it represent any possible dangers or related issues for those riding rockets with Russian made engines?

Stephen Green

Simple answer is yes. We are losing confidence that they know what they are doing across the board. I worked on Mexsat for several years, very disappointing.

Well, first of all, the Proton and Soyuz rockets are built by two different Russian companies (Khrunichev and TsSKB-Progress, respectively). While the still unresolved issue with the last Progress failure is cause for concern, the Soyuz rocket and spacecraft do have a good overall reliability record over the last four decades. And even when problems caused launch aborts in 1975 and 1983, the Soyuz safety systems worked as intended saving the lives of both crews.

Bill Simpson

The Chinese will have a waiting list for their Long March V when it gets going. SpaceX might too.

Ferris Valyn

I seem to recall that the 3rd stage of the Proton is also somehow used on one of the stages of the Soyuz rocket.

Can someone confirm?

The third stage of the Soyuz rocket uses the RD-0110 engine, and the third stage of the Soyuz-2-1b uses the improved RD-0124 engine, whereas the Proton’s third stage uses the RD-0212 engine.

Sincerely, Ivan Simic – copy-editor, SpaceFlight Insider.

When you hand over money to the Russian Mafia (one out of three dollars by some accounts) that should be going into technicians pockets you get what you pay for.

That the U.S. has been pouring millions into the pockets of gangsters to get to a worthless space station has been a profound humiliation for the U.S.

The corruption in Russia is no secret- it is just one of those unhappy realities that go unreported due to industry influencing what the media reports. The most overlooked fact of all is that the ISS was supposed to close shop this year. Instead it continues to consume billions of dollars that should be going to a Moon return. Everyone knows this but the NewSpace lobby makes sure nobody says it out loud. Just a different kind of corruption with a different kind of thug.

I just read they tried to boost the ISS and no light off. It is time to leave Low Earth Orbit and go back to the Moon to stay- and the next President just might make a speech in the near future stating “we will go there again.”

“That the U.S. has been pouring millions into the pockets of gangsters to get to a worthless space station has been a profound humiliation for the U.S.”

Poor structure: what I should have wrote-

“The millions of dollars indirectly paid to Russian gangsters for a ride to a useless space station is a profound humiliation for the United States.”

The sad story of LEO space stations needs to end. They have always been a second best to actual space travel. The first space station crew arrived at the Salyut 1 soviet station on 7 June 1971 and departed on 30 June. The mission ended in disaster when the crew capsule depressurized during preparations for reentry, killing the three-man crew.

The Super Heavy Lift Vehicle bi-monthly launches necessary to build a cislunar infrastructure by going to the Moon and exploiting the resources there have been the next step since 1972. Nothing has changed.

Ferris Valyn

No, what you should’ve done was say nothing, since nothing in your post has anything to do with the loss of the satellite, or the rocket failure, or anything other than you “Russian gangsters” sentence.

Gary, please stop trying to take over every story with your continued “NewSpace is the bane of existance, only I know everything” hogwash. Your continued claim of victumhood is getting stale.

Rhian has banned a slew of NewSpace trolls and is no apologist for NewSpace fanboys. You had better watch your step.

Ferris Valyn

I don’t claim Rhian is pro-NewSpace. I don’t claim he isn’t, but thats not the point. Fundamentally, it’s his site, and he can allow whoever to post here.

And he has banned you, and you keep coming back, to post the same tired victimhood bs. You seem to be a professional troll, and I’d be curious to know who pays you, since you never seem to stop.

Ferris Valyn

It would seem to me you don’t need my help into being goaded – see the Boeing Commercial Crew piece.

Mex must really hate America.

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