An unmanned Russian rocket carrying a Japanese communications satellite malfunctioned after liftoff today and crashed in Kazakhstan, officials said. Nobody was hurt, but the crash triggered concerns in Kazakhstan about environmental damage from toxic rocket fuel.
The Proton-M rocket failed to put the JCSAT-11 satellite into orbit because of a problem during operation of the second stage, the U.S.-based American-Russian joint venture International Launch Services said.
The rocket failed 139 seconds after its launch from the Russian-rented Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan, and veered from the planned trajectory at an altitude of 46 miles, said Alexander Vorobyov, a spokesman for the Russian space agency Roskosmos.
Parts of the rocket fell to the ground in an uninhabited area about 30 miles southwest of the central Kazakh town of Zhezkazgan, Vorobyov said.
The rocket was carrying more than 220 tons of fuel, including highly toxic heptyl, Kazakh space agency chief Talgat Musabayev said, expressing concern about possible contamination around the crash site, Kazakhstan's Kazinform news agency reported.
Kazakhstan would be fully compensated for environmental damage under existing agreements, Prime Minister Karim Masimov said, according to Russian news agencies.
Under an agreement with Kazakhstan, launches of Proton rockets from Baikonur were automatically suspended until the cause of the crash is determined, Vorobyov said.
He said that was unlikely to affect future launches, but an official at state-controlled Khrunichev State Research and Production Center, which makes Proton rockets, said that would depend on when an official investigative commission delivers its report.
Following an accident in July 2006 involving a different kind of rocket launched from Baikonur last year, the report came in about six weeks, and Proton launches are scheduled for November and December, Khrunichev spokesman Alexander Bobrenyov said.
Russian and Kazakh media quoted Musabayev as saying the accident was likely caused by the failure of steering mechanisms aboard the rocket, but Bobrenyov said it was too early to make that determination.
Russia has been aggressively trying to expand its presence in the international market for commercial and government satellite and space-industry launches, though its efforts have seen several high-profile failures.
The July 2006 incident involved a Dnepr rocket carrying 18 satellites for various clients that crashed shortly after takeoff from the Baikonur, spreading highly toxic fuel over a wide swath of uninhabited territory in Kazakhstan.
The JCSAT-11 satellite, made by U.S.-based Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, was to be used by Japan's JSAT Corp., International Launch Services said in a news release. The heavy-lift Proton, a top income-generator for Russia's space industry, is made by Khrunichev, a partner in International Launch Services.