Did the Rockot’s Briz-KM upper stage fail to complete its mission?

by | Jan 17, 2013 | Russia | 0 comments

According to the page describing a typical mission on Eurockot’s  website, step 5 states that after the last spacecraft has separated the upper stage conducts a “final ignition of the main engine to reduce the orbit velocity and hence perigee for a rapid decay to re-entry”. This engine firing should happen approximately 11 minutes after the last satellite separation.

http://www.eurockot.com/rockot/typical-mission/

The Rockot/Briz KM launch that took place on 15 January is acknowledged to have successfully placed all three Rodnik S communication satellites in the correct orbit and US Strategic Commands Space Track website shows there to be four objects from that launch. See the table below.

Common Name

International Designator

Period

Incl.

Apogee

Perigee

OBJECT A

2013-001A

115.75

82.49

1502

1477

OBJECT B

2013-001B

115.76

82.5

1502

1478

OBJECT C

2013-001C

115.81

82.5

1504

1481

OBJECT D

2013-001D

115.89

82.49

1505

1487

Objects A, B and C are expected to be identified as the three satellites and Object D as the Briz KM upper stage. All four objects have very similar orbits and in particular none of the objects perigee has been significantly reduced for a rapid decay and re-entry.

It can also be assumed that as the last engine firing did not take place, and thus, the upper stage has not been passivated and that there is a considerable amount of fuel left in the tanks. There is a danger that it could explode and produce a large amount of orbital debris which at those altitudes will take a considerable length of time to decay and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

During the launch of the Yamal 402 satellite in December 2012, the Briz M upper stage of the Proton vehicle, which is similar to the KM version used by Rockot, failed to place the satellite in the correct orbit. While the Yamal 402 carried enough fuel to recover itself albeit with a reduced life, the Briz M upper stage was left in low Earth orbit with a considerable amount of fuel onboard. This exploded leaving a large amount of debris in orbit which is regarded as a serious hazard to other spacecraft.

So the question remains: Did the Rockot’s Briz KM upper stage fail to complete its mission?

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