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Russia-launched satellite plunges into Pacific

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A Russian rocket carrying a US telecommunications satellite plunged into the Pacific Ocean on Friday only moments after being launched from a mobile sea platform in Russia's latest space failure.

The accident meant the Boeing corporation lost an Intelsat satellite that was to provide TV feeds not only the the United States but also Europe and Latin America.

"There was an accident during the Zenit rocket launch," a source at the Energia corporation that makes the Zenit-3SL rocket used to lift up the Intelsat satellite told AFP.

"The rocket fell into the Pacific Ocean."

Officials said no one was hurt on the huge Odyssey platform that was once stationed off the oil-rich coast of Norway before being tugged to the Pacific by an international consortium called Sea Launch.

The group said in a statement that it "will establish a Failure Review Oversight Board to determine the root cause of the incident."

Energia chief Vitaly Lopota said the Russian rocket's engine appeared to fail less than a minute after the evening takeoff for a still unknown reason.

"We had an abnormal situation -- the emergency shutdown of the first stage engine," Lopota told the state RIA Novosti news agency.

"It happened 50 seconds into the flight. We are now looking into what happened."

Other sources said that the Zenit had veered off course from the moment of the blast-off and pointed out that heavy waves had surrounded the Odyssey for several days.

"The rockets detected an abnormal situation linked to platform instability from the very start, and then switched the engines over (to operations) aimed at steering the rocket away from the platform," a space industry source told the Interfax news agency.

Sea Launch has been using the deep-sea platform to perform commercial launches since 1999. There had been only two complete failures out of the 34 missions conducted prior to Friday's launch.

The Intelsat-27 had been originally due to be taken up to its low-Earth orbit on Thursday. Officials said the one day delay was not caused by suspicions about the reliability of the engines or other equipment.

The widely-used Intelsat satellites have 15-year lifespans and service both commercial and state clients.

Russia's space programme is especially closely watched now because it now provides the world's only manned link to the International Space Station (ISS).

The country's space programme also leads the world in the number of commercial launches and is used by other nations to put up both private and military satellites.

The Roscosmos space agency -- a direct descendent of Moscow's once-proud Soviet programme that competed against NASA at the height of the Cold War -- has been beset by a string of accidents in the past two years that prompted sackings at the top of command.

Russia's most recent setback came in November when it temporarily lost contact with all its non-military satellites as well as the space station because of a vital cable cut.

Other high-profile accidents included the loss of a highly-publicised Mars probe in the Earth's orbit and the loss of a cargo vessel taking up supplies to the ISS.

That August 2011 incident caused delays to a string of manned missions and renewed Moscow's attention on finding an eventual replacement to the workhorse Soyuz rocket.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130201/russia-launched-satellite-plunges-pacific