Russian military rocket launch fails to reach orbit
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: June 21, 2005
A Russian military communications satellite crashed back to Earth this morning after its Molniya rocket failed to deliver the craft to orbit.
Launch of the Molniya booster with its clandestine cargo occurred at 0049 GMT (8:49 p.m. EDT Monday) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in far northern Russia.
Sources told Russian news organizations the rocket's third stage inexplicably shut down about six minutes after lifting off from Plesetsk. Details of the accident were not immediately released.
The vehicle's third and fourth stages -- along with the military communications payload -- made impact in western Siberia's sparsely-populated Tyumen region. Officials said injuries on the ground had not been reported.
The third stage is powered by an RD-0110 engine that burns a combination of highly refined kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen. The four-chamber engine was to have burned for about four minutes.
The Molniya rocket is largely derived from the Soyuz family of vehicles that has dominated the Russian space program for almost 50 years.
Although the Molniya has had a steady success record dating back four decades, the Soyuz family was most recently struck by a catastrophic failure at Plesetsk in 2002 that left a Russian soldier dead.
The communications satellite payload was likely bound for a highly elliptical orbit that would have stretched as high as 25,000 miles. The Molniya is capable of placing up to 4,500 pounds of cargo into such an orbit.
Tuesday's botched launch marked the first failed orbital launch of 2005 in the 22nd attempt.