KIEV, Ukraine – A Russian rocket carrying a Mexican satellite malfunctioned and crashed Saturday in Siberia shortly after its launch — the latest mishap to hit Russia's troubled space industry, whose Soviet-era glory has been marred by a series of launch failures.
The rocket, a Proton-M, was launched from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan on Saturday morning.
Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, in a statement described the accident as a malfunction and said it was looking into what had happened. Russian news agencies quoted authorities in eastern Siberia as saying they are searching for the third stage of the rocket, which is believed to have crashed in the Zabaikalsky region that borders Mongolia and China.
There were also concerns about the tons of toxic fuel the rocket was carrying, which could have exploded at the crash site. Roscosmos would not provide any further details about the accident, including the exact site of the crash.
The Proton-M rocket has a history of mishaps, leading to the loss of three navigation satellites last year.
The Interfax news agency quoted industry sources saying the crash could result in the suspension of all upcoming Proton-M launches, including the next one in June for a British satellite.
In a separate space failure Saturday, Roscosmos also reported that the Progress spaceship failed to ignite its engine and failed to adjust the orbit of the International Space Station. The agency said it was looking into why that happened and said the space station's crew was not in any danger from the incident.
Observers say post-Soviet Russia's space program has been hampered by a brain drain and a steady erosion of engineering and quality standards.
In April, an unmanned Russian space supply ship carrying 3 tons of goods failed to dock with the International Space Station after it went into an uncontrollable spin after the launch.
That failure prompted Roscosmos to delay both the landing of some of the space station's crew and the launch of their successors. Roscosmos space agency chief Igor Komarov said the April 28 launch failure was caused by a leak of fuel tanks in the Soyuz rocket's third stage. Left in low orbit, the Progress cargo spaceship fell to Earth over the Pacific on May 8.
A Russian official said three of the orbiting space station's six-person crew, who had been scheduled to return to Earth in early May, were asked to stay in orbit until early June and the launch of their replacement crew was pushed back from late May to late July.