Russian Space Agency Says It's Investigating Embarrassing String Of Failures

A rocket was destroyed last month because Roscosmos failed to update its launch coordinates.

Russian space agency Roscosmos acknowledged Wednesday that the loss of one of its rockets last month was due to human error and said it’s looking into what has become a troubling string of launch failures.

The space agency also announced Wednesday that it had just lost contact with a telecommunications satellite shortly after it was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome for the nation of Angola.

The news about the Nov. 28 launch of a Soyuz-2 spacecraft came from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, speaking to state TV channel Rossiya 24. He said Roscosmos could confirm speculation that the mission had failed because the rocket was programmed with the wrong coordinates.

According to Rogozin, the agency failed to update the launch location from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is in Kazakhstan, to its new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Siberia.

The doomed Soyuz-2 rocket launches from Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome on Nov. 28, 2017.
The doomed Soyuz-2 rocket launches from Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome on Nov. 28, 2017.

“The rocket was really programmed as if it was taking off from Baikonur,” Rogozin said, in comments translated into English by Reuters. “They didn’t get the coordinates right.”

As a result, the rocket’s upper stage was unable to orient itself when it ignited. Instead of boosting its payload of 19 satellites from various international scientific, research and commercial companies into orbit, it accelerated downward into Earth’s atmosphere, destroying them.

That was the second launch from the Vostochny facility, and the second failure. Cosmodrome officials faced a scolding from Russian President Vladimir Putin last year after its first attempted launch was aborted due to a technical glitch. (The rocket lifted off the next day without incident.)

“Despite all its failings, Russia remains the world leader in the number of space launches,” Putin remarked at the time. “But the fact that we’re encountering a large number of failures is bad. There must be a timely and professional reaction.”