Proton M has third stage failure losing Mexsat 1 (Centenario) comsat (Updated)

by | May 16, 2015 | Launches, Russia, Satellites | 0 comments

In another sign of the worsening reliability of the Proton launch vehicle, Russia posted another launch failure which has lost the Mexsat 1 (Centenario) communications satellite. The satellite was being launched for the Mexican government. After an initially successful lift-off at 0547 GMT on 16 May 2016 from the Baikonur launch base, near Tyuratam in Kazakhstan, it was reported that the flight had ended in failure.

After some trouble receiving telemetry, it became apparent to controllers that the third stage of the launch vehicle had malfunctioned and that the spacecraft had not achieved orbit. The satellite was insured under multiple policies for a value of US$390 million. A malfunction of a third stage vernier steering engine at 490 seconds into the mission and subsequent premature shutdown of its main engine, led to the stage, Breeze M upper stage and spacecraft falling back to Earth. The assembly re-entered and fell in the Chita region near Lake Baikal, close to the far eastern Russian border with China.  No significant debris was reported to have survived the re-entry. There had been concern that there may have been a claim for third-party damage if any of the toxic propellant tanks survived the re-entry.

The cause of the failure was later found by an investigation to have been caused by the third stage RD-0214 vernier steering engine failing due to excessive vibration. This vibration occurred as a result of degradation of the turbo-pump rotor at high temperatures which caused an imbalance.  Roscosmos has ordered changes to the material the turbo pump rotor shaft is made from will a revision of the way the turbo-pump rotor is balanced. The mounting of the steering engine turbo-pump to the main engine will also be revised. In addition, the entire quality system of the Proton rocket will be re-examined and revised.

While the Mexsat-1 (Centenario) spacecraft was owned by the Mexican government, the flight was a “commercial” one in the colours of Proton manufacturer Khrunichev’s marketing arm International Launch Services (ILS). The failure has resulted in a temporary hiatus in Proton launches which has affected the operational plans of satellite operator Inmarsat.  Inmarsat 5F-3 communications satellite is next on the Proton launch schedule and its launch is now likely to take place in the July/August time frame.

According to the Seradata SpaceTrak3 database, of the last ten Proton M flights, three are regarded as “raw” failures. Express AM-4R, Express AM-6 and Mexsat 1 (Centenario) were not placed into the correct orbit by the launch vehicle. This gives a “raw” failure rate of 30%.  However, in the case of Express AM-6 the spacecraft did manage to recover itself with none of its design life lost, so the “adjusted” launcher-related failure rate, corrected to take into account life or capacity lost, drops to 20%.

Comment by David Todd: While the Proton launch vehicle is still competitive on cost, especially since the devaluation of the rouble, its previously non-improving, but at least steady reliability, has recently dramatically worsened.

Industry observers point out that Russian quality control is the main culprit with experienced workers retiring, while the young and talented were not being attracted into the space field given that salaries are higher elsewhere.

Meanwhile, there are allegations that vital funds are being syphoned off in corrupt practices, further hindering quality.  Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin has noted in a Twitter comment that a “systemic crisis” within the Russian space industry is responsible for the recent bout of space failures.  Rogozin has directly accused Proton’s manufacturer Khrunichev of embezzling the rouble equivalent of US$182 million in 2014 alone (see Daily Telegraph report).  In a related move Russian authorities have arrested Dmitry Dyakonov, the head of the Ekopravo firm that provides legal services to Khrunichev.

Whether Russia’s planned renationalisation of all space activity into one overarching space agency/industry conglomerate under Russian space agency, Roscosmos, can improve reliability and reduce corruption remains to be seen.  Doubts remain because even Roscosmos has been accused of massive corruption by Russian state auditors.

Proton itself is being usurped by a younger successor rocket: the Angara 5.   While this succession is supposed to be gradual, the focus is likely to be on the performance and reliability of this new launch vehicle rather than the old.

About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned Seradata database. Trusted by over 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, Seradata is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to

Related Articles

Blue Origin notes nozzle failure as reason for the failure of its NS-23 suborbital flight

Blue Origin has noted the failure mechanism which doomed the unmanned flight New Shepard NS-23 suborbital spacecraft.  After its lift Read more

Starlink Group 5-5 is launched by Falcon 9

The Starlink Group 5-5 (56 satellites) was made by a Falcon 9v1.2FT Block 5 from Cape Canaveral, Floriday, USA, at Read more

Electron rocket launches Blacksky Global 19 and 21

At 0914 GMT on 24 March 2023, Rocket Lab successfully launched their Electron KS rocket (in reusable waterproofed trim to Read more

Russia launches Bars-M 4 electro-optical area surveillance satellite using Soyuz 2-1a

On 23 March 2023 at 0640 GMT a Soyuz 2-1a rocket successfully launched what is believed to be the Bars-M Read more

Relativity Space’s Terran 1 fails on maiden flight – but first stage works well

The maiden launch of the Terran 1 rocket built by Relativity Space suffered an ignition anomaly with its second stage Read more

Italian government gives Vega C vote of confidence with a three-launch order for its IRIDE constellation

Arianespace has won a contract for up to three Vega C launches for the IRIDE, the Italian government's Earth observation Read more

China launches four meteorology satellites to LEO, part of Tianmu-1 fleet

At 0909 GMT on 22 March, a Kuaizhou-1A rocket built by CASIC affiliate ExPace Technology Corp carried four meteorological microsatellites Read more

Falcon 9 makes two launches on 17 March: for Starlink Group 2-8 and SES-18 and SES-19 respectively…but recently launched Starlink Group 6-1 appears to be sinking

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg, California, USA at 1926 GMT on 17 March 2023. The vehicle was Read more




nasaspacexecoreviewsissesaArianespacevideochina25virgin galacticfalcon 9ULARoscosmosDGAaviation weekaressoyuzIGTevaFalcon 9v1.2FT Block 5spacewalkBeidouawardsInternational Space StationspaceSatellite broadcastingBlue OriginrussiamoonStarlinkCargo Return VehicleresearchboeingmarsblogAirbus DSRocket LaborionOneWebISROimpacthyperbolamarsdelayjaxaspaceshiptwodemocratgoogle lunar prizerocketlunarhypertextobamaEutelsatlaunchVegatourismconstellationbarack obamafiguresSESnorthspaceflightnode 2fundedRaymond Lygothales alenia spaceIntelsat2009romeAtlas VExpress MD-2dassault aviationss2Elon MuskaviationLucy2008wk2Lockheed Martinukradiotestmissilesuborbitaldocking portexplorationsstlVirgin OrbitinternetChina Manned Space Engineeringsts-122Ariane 5 ECASLSmissile defensenewspapercotsgalileospace tourismflight2010Ariane 5Express AMU 1spaceportbuildspace stationaltairElectronshuttleProton Minternational astronautical congressNorthrop GrummanIntelsat 23Cosmosscaled compositesEuropean Space AgencyLauncherOnehanleybudgetrulesnew yorksoyuz 2-1aLong March 2D/2shenzhouAriane 6atvspace shuttleVietnamLong March 4CcongressMojaveboldenOrbital ATKiacGuiana Space Centercnesnew shepardLong March 2CUK Space AgencyksclawsSpace Systems/LoralprotonUS Air ForceILSInmarsatLong March 4BTalulah RileyApollodarpaeuSkylonAstriumlanderdragonbaseusaastronautpictureeventSSLfivelunar landerfalconSea LaunchWednesdayinterview50thSNCAprilVega CKuaizhou 1ASpace InsuranceTelesat7customeratlantisLong Marchlinksuccessorgriffin