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Tsyklon 3 Loss is Latest Failure
of a Former Soviet 'Long Term Storage' Rocket

by David Todd

(Posted January 5, 2001)

A Ukrainian Tsyklon 3 rocket has failed to launch six Russian data communications satellites into orbit after a third stage failure. The third stage and all six satellites have crashed back to Earth.


Ukraine's Tsyklon 3 and Russia's Kosmos 3M and Proton K.

In recent years, these launchers suffered four failures on domestic Russian missions. All of these could actually be linked to the fact that these vehicles, or at least their engines, have been on storage for years.

The launch took place from the Plesetsk launch site in Northern Russia on 27th December 2000. The KB Yuzhnoye-built three-stage rocket appears to have failed to inject the satellites into orbit after the third stage engine shut down caused by a malfunction in the on-board computer control system.

Six Russian data communications satellites were lost on the launch (three military Strela 3 Kosmos satellites and three civilian Strela 3 Gonets satellites). The rocket launch itself was not insured nor were the civilian satellites but the three Kosmos Strela 3 satellites owned by Russian Missile Forces (RVSN) were insured for a total value of US$2.5 million. An insurance claim for total loss has reportedly been made. The satellites and third stage assembly are believed to have flown across the Arctic Circle before crashing into the Arctic Ocean off Wrangel Island in East Siberia.

This launch failure appears to be yet another example of a faulty rocket which was taken out of 'long term storage' (Tsyklons have been out of production for some years and have a very low flight rate).

Similarly the last Kosmos 3M to have failed (carrying QuickBird 1) was taken out of storage as Kosmos 3M rockets are also out of production (although this failure may yet be put down to a timing fault on the satellite). The last two failed Proton rockets were both taken out of long term storage (the failed engines having been produced some six years earlier).

It seems that more care and testing is required during the refurbishment of these stored rockets in order to avoid further failures. If failures persist, potential users will be tempted to avoid these 'old' rockets and go for new-build rockets instead.

David Todd is space analyst for Airclaims Ltd.

His columns appear as part of regular updates for subscribers to Airclaims' Spacetrack® database. Hyperlinks have been added to the original text.

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