Mexico’s newest communications satellite crashed into Siberia just minutes after launch early this morning. This marks the sixth catastrophic mishap of this particular configuration of a Roscomos Proton-M rocket since 2010.

Less than 500 seconds after launch, everything went terribly wrong. Image credit: Roscosmos

The Proton rocket with a Breeze M upper stage launched out of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhsta at 11:47 am local time (1:47:39 a.m. EDT). The first two stages went fine, but just 497 seconds into launch and at an altitude of 161 kilometers, the third stage engine booster went catastrophically wrong in a rapid unscheduled disassembly. While no details on the disaster were released by Roscosmos, the state-owned news agency Tass reports the accident was caused by a problem with the steering engine of the Proton’s third stage.

The Breeze M upper stage and the MexSat-1 payload both burned up completely in the atmosphere. Any stray debris would land near Chita, a southern Siberian city near the Chinese and Mongolian borders.

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MexSat-1 satellite mounted on the Proton M rocket prior to setting up for launch. Image credit: Roscosmos

The destroyed MexSat-1 (Centenario) satellite was part of a trio of satellites commissioned by the Mexican government. The $1 billion contract with Boeing covered the construction of three satellites to create a 3G+ mobile communications network, with another $0.6 million covering launch services. The first, Mexsat 3 (Bicentenario), launched on an Ariane 5 rocket in December 2012. The third, Morelos 3, is scheduled for launch on an Ariane 5 rocket in October 2015. The lost payload was fully covered by insurance.

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This is the sixth failure of a Proton M rocket out of 43 launches since December 2010, with two other launches dropping their payloads in inadequate orbits. The previous six Proton rocket launches had gone smoothly, with the most recent mishap in May 2014. Like this most recent disaster, the problem occurred during the third stage burn. The after-action report at the time blamed the explosion on weakness in the bolts between the steering engine turbopump and the structural frame of the main engine, leading to the loss of a Russian communications satellite.

The Proton M rocket prior to launch. Image credit: Roscomos

The next Proton launch — an Inmarsat communications satellite originally scheduled for June 2015 — has been delayed while the rocket failure is investigated.

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