A RUSSIAN Proton M rocket carrying three Glonass satellites crashed shortly after takeoff on Tuesday.
Russia's Proton M rocket introduced in 2010 has suffered spectacular failures before and early Tuesday another one of the unmanned rockets crashed in flames shortly after takeoff. The Proton M rocket carrying three Glonass communications satellites veered off course within seconds of takeoff, rocket bursting into flames before it hit the ground.
A spokesman for Russia's space agency Roscosmos said, "There was an accident during the Proton-M launch. The rocket fell and exploded on the territory of the launch site."
He did not indicate the cause of the crash but according to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti, Kazakhstan's Emergencies Ministry said the crash was due to a failure of the rocket's first-stage engine.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into the crash and ways to avoid such crashes, with heads expected to roll. Russia's space industry is an important source of revenue from foreign companies looking to put satellites into space.
According to Ria Novosti, the crash and loss of three Glonass satellites will incur financial costs of no less than $200m. While those that paid for the satellites will want compensation, Roscomos will have to ensure that its Proton M rockets are safe for flight, with all Proton M launches presently suspended.
Glonass is Russia's answer to the American Global Positioning System (GPS). Previous Proton M failures saw the loss of three other Glonass satellites in December 2010. µ