External Affairs

Russian Space Agency Launches Investigation Into Failed Launch

Though the November 28 launch was initially reported as successful, Russia lost connection with its new weather satellite Meteor-M – the primary payload on board the rocket – within hours of its launch.

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket lifts off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome on November 28. Credit: Roscomos

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket lifts off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome on November 28. Credit: Roscomos

Nineteen satellites that Russia launched on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket November 28 are now being considered by many as lost. One of the companies involved in the mission has expressly said that the launch was a failure, Space.com reported, and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos is said to have announced an expedited probe into the causes of the failure.

Though the launch was initially reported as successful, Russia lost connection with its new weather satellite Meteor-M – the primary payload on board the rocket – within hours of its launch. “Contact has not been established because it is not on its planned orbit,” BBC quoted Roscomos as saying then.

Since then, neither Roscomos nor Glavkosmos (the company that arranged for the launch of the 18 other satellites on board) have said anything else. According to Space News, “A report by the Russian news service Interfax, citing a Russian industry source, claimed that the Fregat upper stage was in the wrong orientation during its initial burn, sending the stage and its satellite payload into the Atlantic Ocean. That report has not been confirmed by Roscosmos.”

However, further information did come from the Canadian satellite operator Telesat, which had a prototype satellite on the rocket. Telesat released a brief official statement on Tuesday terming the launch a failure. “Telesat learned this morning that the Soyuz 2 launch vehicle that was to place 19 spacecraft into orbit, including Telesat’s first Phase 1 LEO satellite, has failed,” Space News quoted the statement as saying. ““Notwithstanding this failure, Telesat’s plans to develop a state-of-the-art, high capacity LEO constellation that will deliver transformative, low latency, fiber-like broadband to commercial and government users worldwide, remain on track.”

None of the other customers of the launch have officially called it a failure. Nick Allain, spokesman for Spire, a company which had ten of its ship-tracking and weather data cubesats on the Soyuz, told Space News they would not comment until the Russians “have completed their own investigation”.

The November 28 launch was the second ever from Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome. The first launch from here, in April 2016, had also been of a Soyuz rocket.