Causal Analysis of Soviet Rocket Explosion

On the morning of July 2nd of this year, Russia’s most commonly used booster rocket technology, the Proton-M, used to blast supplies and equipment into outer-space exploded seconds after take off. This took place on Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, “the world’s busiest spaceport” (Fernholz).

The rocket weighed 700 tons, carrying 600 tons of highly volatile fuel which was dumped all over the area in which the rocket exploded, including various residences. According to a Russian newspaper translated by the Quartz, Russian authorities urged the 70,000 residents of Baikonur to stay inside, lock their doors and close all their windows (Fernholz).

Proton-M rockets have been used by Russia since the cold war era. Originally designed to sit in bunkers or on mobile launch platforms, dormant for long periods of time although ready to be fired at a moments notice as an intercontinental ballistic missiles, the rocket is restricted to more toxic types of fuel it can use. A new type of rocket is being developed by Russia but will not be ready until 2020. This is why heptyl is still being used instead of other, safer fuels that pose less of an environmental contamination hazard (Drummond).

No matter what type of fuel that was used in the Proton-M, this recent failure would still have happened. I believe the main cause of this accident, as official reports revealed, were incorrectly placed guidance sensors on the rocket. According to a preliminary report by the Russian space agency in charge of the failed booster rocket’s launch, Roscosmos, angular velocity sensors were installed on the booster upside down (Autonomous non-profit organization). As a result, the rocket received incorrect guidance data as it lifted off causing it to redirect itself towards the ground.

Drummand, Katie. “Following Russian rocket explosion, experts warn of 'major contamination'“. The Verge. 2 July, 2013. Web. 11 July, 2013.

Fernholz, Tim. “A plummeting Russian rocket’s toxic fuel cloud just shut down the world’s busiest space port”. Quartz. Atlantic Media Company. 2 July, 2013. Web. 11 July, 2013.

“Report: 'Upside down' sensors led to $1.3bn Proton-M rocket crash”. RT. Autonomous non-profit organization. 10 July, 2013. Web. 11 July, 2013.


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