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Roscosmos blames an old-time design flaw of the Proton rocket crash

May 30, 2015, 5:40 UTC+3 MOSCOW
According to Russian space agency, the third stage engine’s pump failed exactly as it did decades ago to cause a Proton crash back in 1988
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A "Proton-M" carrier rocket

A "Proton-M" carrier rocket

© TASS/Artyom Geodakyan

MOSCOW, May 30. /TASS/. Russia’s space agency Roscosmos says it has found out why a Proton-M rocket, launched on May 16, failed to put in space Mexico’s communication Satellite MexSat-1. According to the probe’s findings the shaft in the third stage engine’s pump failed, just as it did decades ago to cause a Proton crash back in 1988.

Eliminating the flaw will not require great costs, Roscosmos said. However, the agency’s chief Igor Komarov promised to take disciplinary and administrative measures following the inquiry and to present a plan for reforming the system of quality management in the space rocket industry.



"The abortive launch of the Proton-M rocket was due to the failure of the third stage’s engine, caused by excessive vibration," Komarov told the media.

The first deputy chief of Roscosmos, Aleksandr Ivanov, explained the cause was rooted in the design, and not workmanship. A series of experiments identified with certainty there had been problems with the rotor of the turbo pump, specifically, with its shaft. The general designer of Proton’s manufacturer - the KIhrunichev Centre - Aleksandr Medvedev said that the flaw had caused a similar accident back in 1988. Both crashes looked very much alike.

"As we understand, the unit had been ‘unwell’ for quite a while, since 1988," Medvedev said.

In the meantime, just three days after the crash Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the space rocket industry, made a similar statement in the State Duma. He told the lawmakers Proton’s loss was due to an old-time design flaw.



"In the near future the shafts will be replaced in all turbo pumps," Roscosmos first deputy chief Aleksandr Ivanov told the media, adding he was certain that the proposed measures would "cure the disease."

"We will be replacing the most vulnerable components," the Khrunichev Centre’s chief designer said. "Both elements of the turbo pump and the mounting structure are to be improved and replaced." Komarov promised that correcting the designers’ mistake would not push up Proton rockets’ manufacturing costs.

"The money question is not a very big one, because it will be enough to alter the shaft’s design and material," he explained. "The material has been identified and some fundamental work carried out already."

Roscosmos has refrained from disclosing the date of Proton’s next launch so far. "The date of Proton-M’s next launch is to be announced in June 2015," Komarov said.



Komarov promised to take "disciplinary and administrative measures" in connection with Proton’s loss but avoided disclosing any details. "When the decisions are made, you will know them," he told the media.

At the same time he disclosed a plan for eliminating errors in quality management at the space rocket industry. The plan is likely to be systemic.

"The inquiry identified quality management and manufacturing process inconsistencies. They are very clear. Instructions have been issued. A plan for eliminating the mistakes will be finalized within two weeks. Possibly, it will be systemic," Komarov said.



Shortly before Proton’s loss the space industry saw another emergency. A Soyuz-2.1a rocket that blasted off from the Baikonur space site in Kazakhstan failed to put in orbit the ProgressM-27M cargo spacecraft that was carrying supplies to the International Space Station. Roscosmos has already announced its preliminary findings - the incident was due to improper separation of the rocket’s third stage and the space vehicle following decompression of the rocket’s fuel tanks.

The exact causes have not been announced yet. According to Roscosmos First Deputy Chief Aleksandr Ivanov, the working group will be through with the probe soon. "In the near future," he said, when asked by TASS when the investigation of the failed launch of the Progress cargo spacecraft might be completed.

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