Near disaster for ExoMars

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The Russian jinx for going to Mars might not be over yet: New data suggests that the Briz-M upper stage to the Proton rocket exploded shortly after it has propelled ExoMars on its way to Mars and then separated from it.

There appears to be a cloud of debris near the probe, thought to have been caused when the Briz-M stage was to fire its rockets one last time to take it away from ExoMars as well as prevent it from following it to Mars. Instead, it is thought (though not confirmed) that the stage blew up at that moment.

Though so far ExoMars appears to be functioning properly, but they have not yet activated all of its most sensitive instruments. Only when they turn them on in April will we find out if they were damaged in any way by the Briz-M failure.


  • Wayne

    I was going to say some smart-%$s remark about “the giant wooden match, working too well,” but I actually want to see this Probe get to Mars in one functioning piece & work.

    So– this Briz-M rocket has had similar failures?

    Do we know if the Probe is on the right trajectory & at the correct speed?

  • D K Rögnvald Williams

    The Rooskies just can’t catch a break with Mars.

  • Alexey

    Just to come Robert down. Everything is fine with the mission so far. 23-03-2016

  • Edward

    Wayne asked: “this Briz-M rocket has had similar failures?”

    Russia has been having a string of what appears to be quality control problems, over the past half decade or so, but this time it does not seem to have affected the mission. The Russians could use a successful mission to Mars. So far, they (the Soviets) have put only two orbiters into orbit, but they failed before they could provide the intended science, and one lander failed immediately after reporting home of its successful landing. All other Russian (Soviet) attempts have failed before reaching Mars.

    This is a post, from three years ago, pointing out that the Briz M upper stage has had problems in the past:

    From the linked article (the 3-year old post): “The Dec. 8 launch mishap marked the third problematic Proton/Breeze M launch since August 2011. A Russian government-sponsored launch of two communications satellites Aug. 7 failed due to a component within the Breeze M’s pressurization system which was not manufactured to specifications. In August 2011, another Breeze M failure was attributed to a programming error.”

  • Dick Eagleson

    Based on the Wikipedia page for all Briz-series upper stages, the Briz-M, used only on the Proton, has had six failures or major “incidents” since 2008, including the apparent explosion post-Exo-Mars deployment. Several other Briz-M’s were lost on missions that failed because of problems with one of the Proton’s lower stages.

    The Briz-M design is quite complicated. Despite producing only 4,400 lbf, the Briz-M’s 14D30 (aka S5.98M) engine uses turbopumps to move its hypergolic propellants. American engines in this size class are typically pressure-fed. An example would be the venerable Aerojet AR-10 which also uses hypergolic propellants and has been around since Vanguard 1’s launch vehicle, for which it was the upper stage. It was also used, in pairs, as the Space Shuttle’s Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines which performed de-orbit burns. In OMS trim the AJ10 produced 6,000 lbf. More recently, the SpaceX Kestrel – the LOX/RP-1 pressure-fed engine of the now-cancelled Falcon 1’s 2nd stage, produced 6,900 lbf.

    Russian space engineering has long enjoyed a reputation for tractor-like ruggedness and simplicity but, as Briz-M demonstrates, it is a reputation not always deserved.

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