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A Russian Proton rocket went out of control and crashed mere seconds after launch today at Baikonur.
Video below the fold. It appears the rocket’s avionics had completely failed so that the engines could no longer control its flight. Obviously that is speculation. What is clear is that the failure was not because of a problem with the rocket’s Briz-M upper stage, which has been the source of the five Proton failures during the past three years.
This is very very very bad news for the Russian commercial rocket effort. They have been trying to recover from those earlier failures, and with the string of successes this year had appeared to doing so. Instead, they now have had their worst and most spectacular launch failure in decades, so spectacular it is reminiscent of the rocket failures of the 1950s. Worse, the failure is not because of the relatively new Briz-M upper stage, but in their well established, decades old first stage, indicating that there are some fundamental quality control problems in their manufacturing process that they have not fixed.
This cannot be good for their business, especially as they have some serious competition. Arianespace, though expensive, is very reliable. SpaceX, though new and essentially untried, is very competitive in price. So is Orbital Sciences.
Expect a lot of heads to roll.
Note that there is a short glitch in the video itself at T minus zero, where it freezes for several seconds. I viewed a whole range of videos on youtube and they all have this problem. It looks like the digital signal went bad for a few seconds.