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