Russian Military Rocket Crashes After Launch
Russian space officials have called off the search for an unmanned rocket and its military satellite payload that crashed just after liftoff from Plesetsk Cosmodrome Tuesday.
Recovery of the communication satellite's remains, which were strewn across Russia's Tyumen region of Siberia, will resume Wednesday, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
"The search, involving an An-2 aircraft, lasted about five hours," a spokesman for Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry told Interfax, adding that search operations concluded as the plane ran out of fuel.
Molniya satellites work in tandem with other spacecraft to provide uninterrupted video and radio signals for military users. While newer Molniya satellites have served the Russian military, earlier versions were used by civilian consumers as well. Those spacecraft orbited Earth once every 12 hours in an orbit that stretched from 24,854 miles (40,000 kilometers) at its peak above the Northern Hemisphere down to 292 miles (470 kilometers) above Southern Hemisphere.
Russian space officials said the Tuesday's Molniya-M rocket launched properly, but experienced a malfunction as it switched between stages.
"The engines of the Molniya-M rocket carrier shut down when the carrier rocket was putting the military-purpose satellite in orbit," said Russian Space Forces Col. Alexei Kuznetsov told Interfax. "As a result, the satellite did not reach its designated orbit."
Anatoly Perminov, chief of the Russian Federal Space Agency, said investigators were considering two potential causes for the crash.
"Either there was an engine failure of the third stage, or the staging order was not fulfilled," Perminov told reporters during a press conference at the Interfax main office.
A criminal investigation has been opened, with military prosecutors to study the potential violation of flight rules, according to the Associated Press and Interfax.
So far, there have been no reports of injuries or major damage, and Russian Space Forces officials touted the Molniya launch vehicle as among its most environmentally-safe boosters because it relies on kerosene and liquid oxygen, Interfax reported.
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