Dnepr launch ends in failure

by Chris Bergin

A converted RS-20V Voevode (SS-18 Satan) ballistic missile, known as Dnepr, launched tonight at 20:43 UK time, carrying a host of satellites, including the first ever spacecraft to serve Belarus.

However, due to a problem with the second stage engine, the vehicle has failed. Other information claims a failure 10 seconds prior to the end of the first stage burn, which also failed to seperate. An explanation is expected on Thursday.


The huge rocket launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in what was classed as a ‘cluster launch,’ with its payload including the BelKA, Baumanets and UniSat 4 satellites.

‘The State Launch Committee continues their work to investigate what happened. We have some preliminary information of the cause [of the failure],’ noted a statement released by ISC Kosmotras. 

‘They have an idea of what might have happened. They know the location of where the rocket fell. They are performing the debris recovery plan. [They] always have that plan for such cases.

‘As soon as tomorrow morning, the rescue team will be in the debris area… We will have more feedback from [them], but I’m not sure that it will be at exactly 10 o’clock [Thursday morning] when they’ll tell us something.

‘We’ll do our best to keep you updated as much as possible as soon as possible. As soon as we have any specific information of when the debriefing will take place, we will inform you immediately.

‘All we can say right now is that it’s a pity, and we’re really sorry. ‘

Launch preview:

The former nuclear payload launch vehicle has been converted for use in the civilian launch programs. However, just as it would the cold war ear, it will launch from a silo launch complex, which is described as ‘mortar mode.’

This will be the seventh launch of the Dnepr as a commercial/civilian vehicle.

The launch was set to take place a month ago, but problems with the digital control system of Dnepr rocket required a changeout of the system. Despite that only requiring six days, testing pushed the launch back four weeks.

Primary payload for the missions is the BelKA satellite. Weighing in at 750 kg, it will have a service life of five years, with its onboard suite of instruments providing a range of services, including meteorological, for the Belarusian government and customers.

The spacecraft has been developed by Energia, which will serve primarily as a remote sensing satellite for Belarus.

Along for the ride will be 14 CubeSats from 10 different universities and one private company, which will be coordinated by California Polytechnic State University. The CubeSats will be contained in five P-PODs, which will interface with the launch vehicle and provide the deployment mechanism.

Also on board will be the Baumanets satellite, which has been developed by students of the Bauman MVTU technical university in Russia. A microsat, weighing in at just 92 kilos, will allow students to carry out experiments on orbit.

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