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Report: 'Upside down' sensors led to $1.3bn Proton-M rocket crash

Published time: July 10, 2013 12:00
Edited time: July 10, 2013 16:30
A man looks in Moscow on July 2, 2013, at a computer screen while watching a footage showing the fall of the Proton-M rocket, which veered off its trajectory and exploded today on takeoff at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  (AFP Photo)

A man looks in Moscow on July 2, 2013, at a computer screen while watching a footage showing the fall of the Proton-M rocket, which veered off its trajectory and exploded today on takeoff at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (AFP Photo)

An installation blunder may have caused a Russian Proton-M rocket to crash shortly after takeoff, says Interfax. Upside down sensors sent the rocket plummeting back to Earth, destroying three navigation satellites and $1.3 billion of high-tech equipment.

A source with links to the commission charged with investigating the incident that happened at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 2 told Interfax that human error was the underlying cause.

“It has been established that the angular velocity sensors were installed incorrectly. They were connected the wrong way round,” the source told Interfax, adding that as a result, the guidance system received incorrect data from the sensors and caused the crash.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has not confirmed the cause of the incident and is still carrying out an investigation into the matter.

“The committee is investigating a number of different theories as to the cause of the crash, among them human error, although this may not be the sole cause,” said a source with links to the committee to Ria Novosti. He stressed that the committee is also investigating a problem with the navigation system, a possible engine malfunction and an error in the equipment at launch control.

“It is possible. An under-qualified worker could have mixed something up, but sometimes even the most experienced of specialists make a mistake,” an expert from the Roscosmos told RIA Novosti.

Deputy Minister of Defense Oleg Ostapenko told press on Wednesday the launch of the next rocket mission will depend on the results of the committee’s investigation.

“Once the committee has established what happened and the possible consequences, we will be able to discuss this [the next launch],” said Ostapenko.

Seventeen seconds after its takeoff the Proton-M rocket veered off course. It tried to correct itself, but turned in the wrong direction, sending it plummeting towards the ground. The rocket exploded on impact close to another launch pad used for Proton commercial launches.

The Proton-M carrier-rocket with its DM-03 upper stage and three Russian Glonass-M satellite navigation systems seen falling down after its take-off from the Baikonur space center. Composition of four photos. (RIA Novosti/Yuri Aliseenko)

“The rocket plummeted back to the territory of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, about 2.5km from the launch site,” said Roscosmos spokesperson Anna Vedishcheva.

The launch was broadcast live on Russian television and the footage went viral shortly after the blunder occurred. Fears were raised following the crash a toxic fuel leak could cause significant environmental damage in the area around the launch sight. As a precautionary measure, around 100,000 residents from the surrounding area were evacuated.

Local authorities are currently carrying a cleanup operation in the area to detoxify the soil.

The Proton-M booster rocket with a DM-03 upper stage and three Russian GLONASS-M satellites is installed for launch on the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad. (RIA Novosti/Roskosmos press service)

Comments (29)


Jindřich Vavruška 10.06.2014 14:37

I heard another story. USA allegedly have "red button" to destroy launched Proton-M in case they suspect it bears nukes instead of regular payload. This was said to be part of some strategic missile treaty between USA and Yeltzin. Maybe someone should check where is the "USA" switch and throw it away... Maybe someone at Kremlin should check the papers, too. These accidents happen way too often and only when strategic satellites are to be launched.


ipforce20 29.09.2013 22:23

'Upside down' sensor?! Come on, that's bullshit and you know it. These components are 'keyed' to prevent incorrect installation and each subset of each system has to undergo certification tests and signed off by experienced Managers or supervisory position staff prior to launch date...I think...what you're telling us here is that the cause was sabotage. It's very well known that certain people in certain country don't want another GPS type system in space.

Anonymous user 11.07.2013 23:35

The black smoke is due to vector thrust at max angle, trying to correct.

View all comments (29)
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