back to article 3-2-1... BOOM: Russian rocket launches, explodes into TOXIC FIREBALL

An unmanned Russian rocket carrying three Glonass satellites veered wildly off-course shortly after takeoff and crash-landed in a fiery explosion. According to state news agency Ria Novosti, there have been no reported casualties, but officials have warned that a cloud of poisonous smoke from the Proton-M rocket's fuel could …

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  1. jonathan1

    Expensive...

    1. Turtle

      Re: "Expensive..."

      Particularly for the insurance companies.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Careless!

    Given one complete, and on partial failure before, I can't help wondering if it really made sense to stick three birds on the same launcher.

    1. Don Jefe
      Happy

      Re: Careless!

      They already had all the mission parameters set. Changing anything in a launch is a big deal and a massive alteration in payload as you're proposing would mean resigning three new missions. It was a risk, it didn't pay off, that's rocketry.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Careless!

        "Changing anything in a launch is a big deal and a massive alteration in payload as you're proposing "

        A dummy load in lieu of two of the satellites would have sufficed, surely, if it was that critical? And if launching fewer is that difficult, why was/is there one bird scheduled for launch in December?

  3. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Loss of control

    Heads will pitch, yaw and roll...

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    OOps

    I think that's one of those loaded with the highly toxic NTO/UDMH mixture.

    Nasty.

    1. Richard Gadsden
      Boffin

      Re: OOps

      It certainly is NTO/UDMH. That's one reason the fireball is so big; UDMH will burn in air at almost any concentration.

      The Russians use nasty chemistry like this instead of plain old H2/O2 for launches because storable fuels were much superior for ICBMs than cryogenic ones (modern ICBMs are solid-fuel) and these rockets are all derived from ICBM rockets, rather than being redesigned from scratch.

      NTO/UDMH is still used in-space because it comprises non-cryogenic liquids with a very low freezing point and therefore they stay liquid out to Saturn orbit; they're also a hypergolic mixture, which means no need for an ignition system. There really isn't a good alternative that's less chemically nasty; any two liquids that ignite on contact are likely to be pretty unpleasant.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: OOps

        The early rocket designs in "Across the Space Frontier" were huge flying tanks of Hydrazine and Nitric Acid. I wouldn't want to have been near the launch site...

        Also:

        Space launches make kids sick: Hydrazine fingered in leaked study

        1. spider from mars
          Thumb Up

          Re: OOps

          Anyone interested in this should read Ignition! by John D. Clark. It describes the early history of liquid rocket fules, and all their hilariously dangerous chemicals and experiments. It's out of copyright now so you can get a pdf.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: OOps

        "any two liquids that ignite on contact are likely to be pretty unpleasant."

        Not strictly.. one may be nice like glycerine... (hypergolic when mixed with KMnO4)

  5. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    No auto destruct ?

    I was surprised that there was no auto destruct when the trajectory of the rocket drifted so far off.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No auto destruct ?

      In Russia, self destruct not necessary. We just use gravity beam.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: No auto destruct ?

      I suspect the fuel's a big reason they don't use an auto-destruct. The area around the cosmodrome's pretty barren, so if it falls down nearby, it'll just explode like it did and burn itself out. Given the toxicity of the fuel, it's better to have it on the ground than in the air (where it has more drift potential).

      1. E 2

        Re: No auto destruct ?

        LOL, they don't need no self destruct button.

        Go and research pollution from Soviet era nuclear weapons facilities - the policy seems to have been to just dump the radioactive waste in the nearest river.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: No auto destruct ?

      The rocket holds a hundred tons of kerosene - exactly what sort of auto destruct could destroy that quicker than it burning?

      Presumably the former USSR has a few 1000 such devices lying around but putting them onto rockets might seem unfriendly

      1. Tom 13

        @Yet Another Anonymous coward

        I was always under the impression that with civilian rockets the point of the self-destruct is to control where the rocket explodes. How quickly and completely it goes up after that are a secondary considerations. When you are moving at those kinds of speeds safe distances are a different order of magnitude than our normal considerations.

    4. Cubical Drone
      Mushroom

      Re: No auto destruct ?

      It seems that is what the Launch button is for.

    5. phuzz Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: No auto destruct ?

      I can't find my source now, but apparently the Proton doesn't have a self destruct charge, but if it goes out of bounds then the engines can be remotely shut off. Unfortunately this only happens 40s after liftoff...

  6. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Insurance...

    Guessing the reinsurance will be even more costly seeing as they already lost their no claims discount in 2010.

    Do they have rockets as a categories on Confused.com?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Insurance...

      There's probably no point in insurance on Glonass. There's so many satellites that some are bound to go wrong or go bang. So it's cheaper to just save the insurance premiums towards when something like this happens.

    2. Yet Another Commentard

      Re: Insurance...

      @Aristotle

      A pedantic point, and getting well off topic, but - reinsurance is the process by which an insurer (called a cedant) insures itself from another insurance company, called a reinsurer. In turn that reinsurer can insure the the risk with another reinsurer (a process called retrocession). This can, accidentally, become incestuous where a reinsurer can end up reinsuring itself if the retrocession chain is long/complicated enough.

      You can spot these companies easily as they usually have a suffix of "Re" at the end of the name, such as Swiss Re, Ace Re etc.

      When you insure your car your insurance company will most likely bundle the policy up with a load of others and then insure the whole package with a reinsurer.

      Satellite insurance is really, really expensive. As a result many launches are self-insured. One of my old university friends had a satellite on the first Ariane 5 flight, not insured as they couldn't afford it. Not a good day at the office.

  7. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    Thanks

    Today one of the local "news" outlets (Herald Sun) posted an "article" on this event, comprised only of two one-sentence paragraphs. The first explained that a Russian rocket had exploded on "take-off". The second was a quote from the official statement from the responsible agency stating that a rocket had exploded on launch.

    Thanks for not being the Herald Sun.

  8. Yag
    Joke

    Wow!

    The latest version of Kerbal Space Program is very realistic!

    1. My Alter Ego
      Thumb Up

      Re: Wow!

      Made me think of some of my failed launches in KSP.

      1. Yag

        Re: Wow!

        Well, the video made me think of most of my launches in KSP...

        1. Eradicate all BB entrants

          Re: Wow!

          My son has just taken to building rockets that will provide the most spectacular explosion on the launch pad with the command pod surviving. Having tried myself it's a lot harder than it looks.

  9. Don Jefe
    Boffin

    Nose Section

    It looks almost like the upper section of the rocket was intentionally separated during the fall. Is there a mechanism to eject the payload section in case there's a chance of recovering it?

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

      Re: Nose Section

      It certainly looked as though a 'chute was being deployed

    2. Dave Pickles

      Re: Nose Section

      Doubt it. The join between the stages would be designed to handle high positive-G loads, not negative-G with aerodynamic side loading, so not surprising that it came apart.

  10. xperroni
    Black Helicopters

    Oddly convenient

    Funny how often Russian rockets have been going bust these days – just as SpaceX's launchers are about ready for prime time.

    But I'm sure it's just fortuitous coincidence, nothing to see here at all!

  11. Peter Mount
    Mushroom

    Amateur footage shows it better

    This footage taken from a few miles away shows it failed shortly after it left the ground - something you can't tell from the official footage.

    http://youtu.be/DSTVkkDv30k

    Don't exactly blame them from ducking when it hit the ground.

    1. My Alter Ego
      Thumb Up

      Re: Amateur footage shows it better

      Especially as the rocket was getting visibly larger as it was careering towards the ground. The official video did show something that looked like incomplete fuel burning (soot) which I'm guessing could cause significat asymmetric thrust.

  12. Evoflash

    Lot of rubles in the rubble.

  13. Steve I
    Black Helicopters

    And next month, if Russia still hasn't handed over Snowden/turned a blind eye to a US SEAL snatch squad, they'll be another 'accident'...

  14. Anomalous Cowshed

    Russian engineers

    Russian engineering - it's at the cutting edge of technology, but the attention to detail leaves much to be desired.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Russian engineers

      It doesn't kill germans, so it's a bit boring and mundane...

  15. Steve I

    Top Gear Space Shuttle...

  16. Carl W

    Range Safety Officer

    Was the RSO asleep?

  17. Crisp Silver badge

    All the kings horses and all the kings men

    Couldn't put that rocket back together again.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smithereens? I'm not sure how big a smithereen is, but from the looks of things, anything on board that rocket is now in pieces significantly smaller...

  19. Herby Silver badge
    Joke

    Maybe they should have used...

    GPS instead. It might not have drifted off course!

  20. cyberdemon
    Mushroom

    You are having a bad problem

    you will not go to space today.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rocket engineering

    still tricky

  22. Mike Flugennock

    Oooooohhhhh! Aaaaahhhhhhh!

    Shame about the satellites, but, still, that's some wicked-assed footage.

    I don't have the time or inclination to root around on YouTube for it now, but there's some fairly famous footage of an Atlas booster test launch from the early Project Mercury development days in which the Atlas does a very similar move -- sort of wavering around in its trajectory before doing a U-turn in midair, heading almost straight down and plowing into the ground at full speed, like a rocket in an old Road Runner cartoon.

    1. DanceMan
      Mushroom

      Re: Oooooohhhhh! Aaaaahhhhhhh!

      Acme Industries has a branch in Russia?

  23. Joe User
    Trollface

    Ooops!

    Okay, who forgot to comment out the legacy ICBM code in the flight control software?

  24. Grave

    mass driver

    i wonder when someone finally decides to build a mass driver instead of these outdated rockets

    i wouldn't be surprised if its chinese and its somewhere in karakoram range

    1. Steven Roper
      Joke

      Re: mass driver

      A mass driver to get a projectile into orbit under Earth gravity, with sufficient initial force to also punch said projectile through 150 miles of atmosphere?

      Enjoy your 500-G tomato-paste take off, matey!

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Re: mass driver

        Don't forget that LEO orbit is something like 27,000kph and when you hit the wispy air at 100km up at that speed, your spaceship tends to burn-up, or at least glow red-hot as the ceramic tiles start stress because of the plasma generated by pushing the air that hard.

        Now you want to be going faster than that at ground level, where the air is thicker? I think that approx 2 seconds after being turned into tomato paste, you would also be burned to a crisp. I await the youtube video clip of your attempt however.

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