Russian Proton rocket lost after botched Mexican satellite launch

The launch of the Russian Proton-M rocket went wrong when its telemetry seized. The rocket and its payload, a Mexican communication satellite, have burned up in the atmosphere, national space agency Roscosmos confirmed.

“The failure happened at an altitude of 161 kilometers. The third stage, the booster vehicle and the spacecraft completely burned up in atmosphere. As of now there are no reports of debris reaching the ground,”a statement released by the agency said.

Telemetry stopped a minute before the MexSat-1 satellite was due to be placed into orbit.

The agency grounded all Proton-M rockets for the duration of an investigation into the incident. It may take up to several weeks for the first results to be released.

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“Preliminary data indicate that the third stage and the Mexican satellite may fall in the Chita region [of Russia]. The emergencies ministry has been notified,” a source told Interfax.

But local authorities said there were no reports in the Chita region of rocket debris falling anywhere near towns.

“If there were any casualties or damage, we would have known by now,” a spokesman for the local branch of the emergencies ministry told RIA Novosti.

Reports emerged in the media that up to 10 tons of highly toxic fuel remained in the tank of the Proton’s third stage as it crashed.

Russia’s meteorology service, Roshydromet, has refuted this, saying that its inquiry has shown “there’s no threat of environmental pollution in Russia and neighboring countries as a result of the accident.”

The toxic fuel from Proton’s tanks bears no threat to the ecology of Russia’s Zabaikalye Region, Ivan Moiseev, the head of the Space Policy Institute, told RT.

"There’s nothing left [of the fuel], everything burnt out. It’s coming from a high altitude and great speed. There’s also additional heating in the atmosphere. Everything burns out [in such conditions],” Moiseev stressed.

“A few elements might’ve made it to the ground… But I doubt that it’ll be even possible to locate them, let alone evaluate the damage,” he added.

MexSat-1, a 5.4 ton communication satellite was built for the Mexican government by Boeing Satellite Systems.

Saturday’s launch was initially scheduled for April 29 but was postponed at Boeing’s request, as the company required additional time for satellite testing. Proton’s previous launch was on March 29, when the rocket placed a Russian communication satellite into orbit.