Russian Rocket Fails During Launch, Explodes After Liftoff

by Jason Major on July 2, 2013

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Explosion of a Progress-M rocket on July 2, 2013

Explosion of a Proton-M rocket on July 2, 2013

At 2:38 UTC Tuesday morning (local time) a Russian Proton-M heavy lift rocket carrying three GLONASS navigation/positioning satellites exploded shortly after lifting off from the pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome. The event was captured on a live Russian news feed, seen above.

No word yet on whether there were any injuries or not according to, no casualties have been reported but the Proton rocket debris may have landed near another pad used by ILS (International Launch Services) — a U.S./Russian joint venture for commercial launches.

According to Anatoly Zak at, “since the emergency cutoff of the first stage engines is blocked during the first 42 seconds of the flight to ensure that the rocket clears the launch complex, the vehicle continued flying with its propulsion system firing practically until the impact on the ground.”

Reminder: space travel is (still) hard.

Update: Watch another view of the failed launch below:

The shockwave at 1:01… yikes.


A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

Planemo July 2, 2013 at 6:05 AM

All that “$” and technology up in smoke. I often wondered. What insurance covers space vehicles and cargo? All this technology within along with the vehicle itself must have some sort of insurance coverage. Is it the commercial insurance companies who cover the losses? Is it the government themselves who just eat the cost and damages? Does anyone know how it works?

Roberto Rodriguez Jr July 2, 2013 at 10:16 AM

who gives a flying duck about insurance? it was an epic fail! money is an illusion. seriously so many sheep roam these lands without an idea of the slaughter.

squidgeny July 2, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Investors (whether private or taxpayer) care about insurance.

Planemo July 2, 2013 at 3:24 PM

Hey Jr., wake up an smell the coffee beans where your at. .Actually its calls a “rats ass”. What Island you on? And with out ‘insurance co’s’ the economy would tank. The banking system, the Wall Sts. of the world depend on them. Is your car covered Jr? ;-)

squidgeny July 2, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Big global insurers like Zurich and Allianz insure spacecraft and launch events. And spacecraft probably aren’t even their biggest liabilities – the same insurers insure skyscrapers, nuclear plants, oil platforms and ocean ships.

Planemo July 2, 2013 at 3:29 PM

Oil rigs and too uh. I never knew, now I do, thanks to you. Thank you squidgeny. ;-)

Astroraider July 2, 2013 at 7:38 AM

I am guessing it is a sad day for the insurers.

I wonder about the future of the Proton M Heavy Lift Vehicle … so many failures.

Joel Raupe July 2, 2013 at 8:20 AM

Looks like an SRB failed to ignite, dooming the stack immediately. Guidance over-corrected, and catastrophic integrity failure waited until that sudden stop after hitting the ground. No manual or auto-destruct, or failure?

(A ghastly demonstration of what might have happened, but didn’t, at every Shuttle launch, following a similar SRB fail or non-simultaneous SRB ignition.)

Supposing it was an SRB failure, did the same wayward engine ignite later, perhaps due to slosh and burn of core fuel? And a comparison of ATK, ESA and Russian solid programs would be informative.

We’re still working at the razor’s edge of our technological capabilities.

Vedran Vrhovac July 2, 2013 at 9:49 AM

There are no SRB-s on rocket, Proton-M is liquid fuel rocket

Martin_Silenus July 2, 2013 at 1:08 PM

“No manual or auto-destruct, or failure?”

According to, “… the first stage engines is blocked during the first 42 seconds of the flight to ensure that the rocket clears the launch complex… “

Joel Raupe July 2, 2013 at 3:26 PM

Thanks. I should have expected Zak to be on top of the story.

TechnoBlog5 July 2, 2013 at 3:53 AM

there are another 20 satelites already in space?

StockportJambo July 2, 2013 at 9:08 AM

Thankfully, no Kerbals were killed.

ethanol July 2, 2013 at 2:19 PM

They should really add fins. It’s always worked for me when my rockets have flipped just after launch.

The Latinist July 2, 2013 at 11:57 PM

I am assuming that your rockets do not have thrust vectoring.

Vedran Vrhovac July 2, 2013 at 9:48 AM

it is Proton-M, not Progress-M rocket

Jason Major July 2, 2013 at 1:55 PM

Yes it is, thanks. Fixed.

Kevin Frushour July 2, 2013 at 10:20 AM

It’s stuff like this which is why I’m already worrying about the James Webb launch.

Mike Petersen July 2, 2013 at 7:15 AM

And no gerbils, either.

Mike Petersen July 2, 2013 at 7:18 AM

Too bad they don’t have Google Translate for audio/video files…

EugenieKochin July 2, 2013 at 5:18 PM

0:28 Here goes the launch.

0:34 (inaudible) sight.

0:39 Something seems to be going wrong…

0:44 Something is wrong!..

0:48 I guess this is going to be a disaster.

0:50 And now the rocket is heading toward the ground and disintegrates in mid-air.

0:55 And an explosion.

1:02 And so, during the live broadcast, we’ve witnessed the unsuccessful launch of the rocket Proton-M with 3 GLONASS satellites on board.

1:14 The fumes of dark smoke go up in the air.

squidgeny July 2, 2013 at 12:41 PM

The system uses 24 satellites and yes they’re already up there – but they get replaced from time to time with upgraded versions.

TheDalaiSputnik July 2, 2013 at 9:38 AM

Where’s the RSO? The vehicle should have been destroyed as soon as the flight went haywire.

Shootist July 2, 2013 at 2:42 PM

As a kid I remember watching all those NACA rockets do the promenade de la mort.

Kendall Paul Oei July 2, 2013 at 4:08 PM

I am no longer in a hurry to catch a ride on a Russian rocket to the ISS. ;)

Patrick Proctor July 2, 2013 at 9:24 PM

Actually, Russian launch vehicles have a similar, if not better, safety track record. Accidents like these don’t happen that often.

Eugene July 3, 2013 at 9:19 PM

Considering that the Space Shuttle had a 1.5% flight failure rate, 40% vehicle failure rate, and killed more people then any other space vehicle in history, I’ll be quite happy catching a ride on a Russian rocket :p

Ettalb July 2, 2013 at 4:44 PM

That was a down to earth launch for sure..

Red_Ruffensor July 2, 2013 at 5:08 PM

This goes to show that we’re still a long long way from just jumping into a spaceship and blasting off into the void, a la Han Solo.

Bradley Williams July 2, 2013 at 5:21 PM

There’s no explosive packs on Baikonur launches. They just cut the engines (which couldn’t happen yet because they were still in lockout) and let it fall back to earth.

Dave B July 2, 2013 at 9:23 PM

Even our Space Shuttles had RSO packages, since no one really likes a full tank of LOX and a pair of flaming SRBs coming down on the heads of the local populace. (Even if it is mostly gators and flamingos.)

Who likes relying on Russia for their space launch capability now, show of hands…?

Patrick Proctor July 2, 2013 at 9:25 PM

They probably should have a way to destroy a wayward rocket, just in case.

Twick or Tweet July 3, 2013 at 8:33 AM

Apparently they gave an engine cut-off order at 12 seconds but there is a fail-safe lock of a minimum of 42 seconds to try to avoid the LV falling back onto the launch pad and associated buildings including mission control.

TheDalaiSputnik July 5, 2013 at 10:37 AM

Finding out more about their situation. The highly toxic fuels used may also be a factor. It may be more prudent to let the vehicle crash down in one spot, instead of converting the launch vehicle into a rapidly expanding plume of airborne toxic waste.

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