Earlier this week, Russia launched a classified military satellite from its Plesetsk Space Center, roughly 500 miles north of Moscow. That payload reached orbit atop a Soyuz 2-a, one of the newer Russian-devleoped rockets.
Also this week, however, a communications satellite attached to a Proton-M, a 2001 update on a Soviet-era model, was not so lucky. You can watch Russia’s most advanced and most powerful satellite reduced to vapor here:
Russian rocketry is no stranger to spectacular explosions. On July 3, 1969, the N-1, Russia’s answer to the Apollo program’s Saturn V, exploded on the launch pad, along with 2,600 tons of fuel. It was one one of numerous failures for Russia’s manned lunar program — they could never build a large rocket as reliable as the inevitably-successful American counterpart.
Although the N-1 is one of the more notable failures in the history of rocketry, Soyuz would prove to be the most reliable manned spacefaring vehicle in history. Soyuz, which refers to both a class of rocket and a type of manned space capsule, is still used to ferry personnel to the International Space Station. But even it has had some troubles reaching orbit: In 1983, a Soyuz rocket and module exploded not long after takeoff. Astoundingly, the crew was able to eject — and survived.
Rocketry is an inherently risky enterprise, and even small rockets can have trouble getting off the ground. Here’s footage from 2000 of a Russian s-300 surface-to-air missile dangling in midair before limply falling back to earth.
And yesterday wasn’t the first time a Proton M has exploded on camera. On July 2, 2013, three navigation satellites worth an estimated $US200 million went up in flames not long after liftoff:
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