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Russian Satellite Launch Failure Is Fourth Mishap Since 2010

A Russian Proton-M rocket failed to send two communication satellites into orbit today, the fourth failure of a Russian spacecraft launch in less than two years.

The Proton-M’s booster rocket functioned only for seven seconds, short of the programmed 18 minutes and 5 seconds, during the launch of the Telkom-3 and Express MD2 satellites, the space agency Roscosmos said on its website.

Roscosmos will suspend launches with Proton-M rockets until the cause of the failure is established, state news service RIA Novosti reported, citing an unidentified space industry official. Three failed launches since December 2010 involved the Proton-M, while a fuel malfunction brought down a Progress craft in August last year, the vessel’s first crash since it started flights in 1978.

Russia controls 40 percent of the market for space launches, which mainly involve transporting satellites and equipment for others. The Russian space agency chief, Vladimir Popovkin, was appointed last year after the firing of his predecessor because a Proton-M rocket failed to deliver three navigation satellites into orbit.

Within four months of Popovkin’s appointment, Russia lost its most powerful telecommunications satellite, Express-AM4, after another faulty Proton-M launch.

In the latest failure, the Telkom-3 satellite, which was designed to provide telecommunications services for Indonesian customers, and the Express MD2 were launched from Russia’s Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan, RIA said.

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