Russia Loses Contact With Satellite After Rocket Launch
A Russian Proton rocket is hoisted into launch position for the Aug. 17 launch of the new Express AM4 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Credit: Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos)

Russia's Federal Space Agency lost contact with a new communications satellite shortly after it launched into space due to an apparent communication glitch on the spacecraft's rocket, Russia's space agency has reported.

The satellite, called Express-AM4, blasted off atop a Proton rocket on Wednesday (Aug. 17) at 5:25 p.m. EDT (2125 GMT) from the central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where it was early Thursday morning local time.

According to a translated statement posted in Russian to the country's Federal Space Agency website, officials said flight controllers lost contact with the satellite due to an apparent communications problem with the Proton rocket's Breeze M upper stage. Later, another statement suggested that the rocket stage may have been found though the status of the Express-AM4 satellite was unclear. [50 Great Russian Rocket Launch Photos]

The rocket upper stage was designed to deliver the Express-AM4 satellite into a final geostationary orbit about 22,369 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth during a series of maneuvers. It was during those maneuvers that the malfunction appeared.

A commission will likely review the cause of the anomaly, Russian space officials said.

The new rocket malfunction is the latest of several embarrassing Russian launch failures or incidents for Russia's space program in a single year.

On Dec. 5, a Proton rocket plunged into the Pacific Ocean after engineers filled its upper stage with too much propellant. Three navigation satellites were lost.

Then on Feb. 1, a different rocket launched a new Russian military satellite called Geo-IK 2 into the wrong orbit. After a day of searching, Russia's military was able to reestablish communication with the satellite to confirm it was not in its intended orbit.

The Express-AM4 satellite is the largest Express-series communications satellite for the Russian Satellite Communications Company, which is responsible for Russia's federal TV and radio broadcasts. [Related: 7 Rocket Launches in 7 Days]

The satellite was built by EADS Astrium, carries 12 antennas and 63 transponders for broadcast services and was designed for a 15-year lifespan in orbit, according to a mission description.

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