On Friday 23 December 2011 Russian Andrei Krivoruchenko was at home with his wife in the village of Vagaitsevo, in Ordynsk District, Novosibirsk, Siberia, when he heard a large crash. Investigation revealed a large hole in his roof, caused by a 50 cm titanium sphere which had apparently fallen out of the sky. This turned out to be a fuel tank from a Russian Meridian communications satellite, which had been launched in Plesetsk, Northern Russia, minutes before.
The hole in Andrei Krivoruchenko's roof.
The satellite was part of a communications network designed cover Siberia and the Russian Arctic and Far East. It was launched on a Soyez-2.1b rocket launched at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome which broke up seven minutes after takeoff, apparently due to a third stage rocket failure. Most of the debris is likely to have burned up in the atmosphere, but several pieces of landed in Ordynsk District, including the titanium sphere, an essentially cannon-ball shaped fuel tank.
The flight path of the doomed satellite.
It has been a particularly bad year for Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, who have lost string of satellites and probes to failed launches.
On 4 December 2010 a Proton Rocket carrying three Glonass-M navigation satellites (a Russian rival to the American GPS system) launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on the wrong flight path, failed to reach orbit, and eventually crashed into the Pacific 1500 km northwest of Honalulu.
The Glonass Satellite, as it should have looked.
On 1 February a Rokot/Briz-KM booster carrying the Kosmos 2470 Satellite, designed for creating detailed three dimensional maps and studying plate tectonics, was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome failed to reach its correct orbit after a second stage ignition failure. Roscosmos were unable to establish contact with the satellite. A month later a second system failure caused the satellite to move out of alignment with the sun, causing its solar power system to fail.
On 15 August 2011 another Proton Rocket from Baikonur carrying the Express-AM4 communications satellite, designed to cover Russia and Central Europe, failed to reach its correct orbit after the final stage failed to separate properly. The satellite reached orbit, but not in the correct position; it was apparently unable to deploy its solar panels with the final stage still attached, and communication was lost a few days later when its batteries failed.
The Express-AM4 on the launch-pad.
On 24 August a Soyuz U rocket carrying a Progress 44 supply vessel for the International Space Station, blasted of from Baikonur, but developed a booster problem 325 seconds after launch, causing the rocket to shut down and the satellite to fall back to Earth. This was a serious problem for the Space Station, as since the end of NASA's Space Shuttle program, the Soyuz rockets are the only ones capable of reaching the Station.
On 9 November the Fobos-Grunt interplanetary probe, intended to land on the Martian moon Phobos, blasted off from Baikonur, but suffered another booster failure and became trapped in low-Earth orbit. It is thought likely that the probe will fall back to Earth in February 2012.
The Fobos-Grunt Probe, as it was intended.