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


    1. Turtle

      Re: "Expensive..."

      Particularly for the insurance companies.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    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

      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


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


    1. Richard Gadsden

      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

        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...


        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

      Re: No auto destruct ?

      It seems that is what the Launch button is for.

    5. phuzz Silver badge

      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


    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

    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...


      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


    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


    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

    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

    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.

    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

      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

    Maybe they should have used...

    GPS instead. It might not have drifted off course!

  20. cyberdemon

    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

      Re: Oooooohhhhh! Aaaaahhhhhhh!

      Acme Industries has a branch in Russia?

  23. Joe User


    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

      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.

      2. David Cantrell

        Re: mass driver

        Just take a reeeeeealy long run up

      3. Grave

        Re: mass driver

        non living stuff obviously :rolleyes:

        building it at high altitude like 7-8 km mountain range and you will have to deal with orders of magnitude less atmosphere, etc

        not to mention low cost per kg

        although you could launch humans with mass driver, the launch platform would have to be hundreds of kilometers long for comfortable gforce levels.

        1. Robert Sneddon

          Re: mass driver

          By "orders of magnitude" you mean about 60% less at 7 to 8km -- the air pressure at the top of Everest (9km plus) is about 35% of sea level. An SR-71 flying at about 3000 kph at 25km altitude is glowing a dull red from air friction even with the fuel being used to cool the skin before it gets pumped into the engines. A capsule from a mass driver travelling at ten times that speed (drag goes up as the cube of speed so a thousand times more heating effect than the modest 600 deg C temperature rise the SR-71 experiences) would be vapourised before it got anywhere near orbit.

          1. Grave

            Re: mass driver

            just to point out common misconception. stuff doesn't burn up/glow red from air friction. it heats up because of air compression (thats also why air hand pump gets hot as you compress air)

            couldnt this be mitigated to a degree by using specific capsule shape, or even stuff like cavitation/supercavitation (which is used by russian shkval torpedoes to travel significantly faster than ordinary ones - 370km/h vs 80km/h). air is a fluid after all

            and wouldnt it be possible to generate a tunnel or a vacuum channel in atmosphere using lasers/etc? would be like riding the lightning :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: mass driver

      No we want a Space elevator. No messing about with High G launches.

      Apart form the very exotic materials need to construct it, the biggest problem with a space elevator still involves listening to crappy Muzac for hours until you get to LEO.

      1. Mike Flugennock

        Re: mass driver

        No we want a Space elevator. No messing about with High G launches.

        Apart form the very exotic materials need to construct it, the biggest problem with a space elevator still involves listening to crappy Muzac for hours until you get to LEO.

        ...not to mention how long you'd be stuck listening to that damned music if the space elevator gets stuck between floors.

      2. Martin Budden

        Re: mass driver

        Apart form the very exotic materials need to construct it, the biggest problem with a space elevator still involves listening to crappy Muzac for hours until you get to LEO.

        Nope, a space elevator can't get you into LEO. It can get you to the same altitude as an object in LEO, but without any lateral velocity any attempt to orbit will result in you plummeting like a bowl of petunias.

        A space elevator *can* get you to GSO without any problem: step off here (42,164 km up) and you neither fall nor rise.

        Go even further up the elevator and you can step off and float to other destinations: letting go 50,960 km up will get you to the moon (if you time it right), letting go at 144,000 km will get you to Jupiter and then out of the solar system (again, you have to let go at just the right moment).

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    (sound of the GLONASS users all saying "NYET!!!" in unison.)

    This is unfortunate, as one option for testing NASA's "Project Farcast" aka the secret warp test ship being built at an undisclosed location was to launch it using one of these Proton M's.

    NASA is very limited as it has to use existing technology for its satellite launches and now the Shuttle is no more the only other option is to dust off one of their SR71s, modify the airframe and launch the test ship from underneath at 70K feet with its own rockets to get it into space.

    You don't think they really scrapped the Blackbird, right? Its still flying out of Nellis AFB :-)

    All the ones in museums are the first level prototypes with the name plates switched over, they "look" identical but are actually just test builds and not flight capable.

    In case anyone wonders, I am not making this up, my sources asked me not to reveal who they are.

    The "warp ship" is based on well known theories formulated in the 1930's and recently enhanced by the use of high temperature superconductors such as magnesium diboride and some more advanced physics derived from the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.

    AC/DC 6EQUJ5

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Oops

      Much as I hate to point out a flaw in your otherwise impressively logical and coherent essay, but the yanks have several different launchers available to them.

      An Atlas V will carry about the same payload to LEO as Proton (and using nice clean LOX/RP1, none of this hypergolic muck), and a Falcon 9 isn't much further behind.

      Remember to check your sources in future! We wouldn't want people to think you're a crack pot now would we...

      1. Robert Sneddon

        Re: Oops

        The Delta 4 Heavy can lift about 24 tonnes into LEO, 3 tonnes more than the Proton-M and its even cleaner than the Atlas as its fully cryogenic with no solid boosters. The Ariane V lifts about the same mass as the Proton-M but it uses solids to get it off the pad. The next Falcon 9 to fly is the uprated stretch version (v1.1) and it's only capable of 15-16 tonnes into LEO. It's also about 6 months behind schedule with the first flight now due in September.

  26. PeterM42

    Well, but, after all........ IS rocket science

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Serves them right for using Linux. If they had use nt 3.51 it would have been fine.


  28. Grumpy Fellow

    Empty feeling

    As cool as the video is to watch, I can't help rooting for the rocket to straighten up and fly right each time I watch it. In the old days I worked on satellites, and I can say from experience that it is just a terrible feeling when you are in the control room and you realize with horror that half a billion dollars and several years of your life have just turned into scrap metal. At least launch failures like this, with a big ball of fire, leave no doubt. The ones where something goes wrong later in the mission and all you have is telemetry to look at, or maybe no data at all, are even harder, I would say.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I thought Stuxnet was only supposed to target


  30. h3

    Makes that plastic factory fire in England look like nothing.

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