Russia’s space pride suffered another blow Tuesday when a booster rocket failed to place two communications satellites into target orbits, a mishap that came a day after NASA successfully landed a robotic vehicle on Mars.
The agency said that the engine’s malfunction stranded the Russian Express MD-2 and Indonesia’s Telkom-3 satellites in a low orbit where they can’t be recovered. “The satellites can be considered lost,” Roscosmos spokeswoman Anna Vedishcheva said on Rossiya television.
The failure comes a day after NASA managed to land a roving laboratory the size of a compact car on Mars after an eight-month, 352-million-mile (566-million-kilometer) journey.
A Russian robotic probe designed to study a moon of Mars got stranded in Earth orbit after its launch in November and eventually came crashing down in January.
A few months before, a Soyuz booster rocket similar to those ferrying crews and cargo to the International Space Station failed, prompting officials to consider leaving the space outpost unmanned. Russian space officials eventually tracked down the reason, saying it was caused by “accidental” manufacturing flaws and the Soyuz launches resumed.
Those mishaps followed other failures. Russia lost three navigation satellites in December 2010, then a military satellite in February 2011 and a telecommunications satellite in August of that year.
Russia’s space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin has ordered the establishment of quality inspection teams at plants that produce rocket parts. The inspectors have the authority to halt production if they see that a plant is struggling to maintain quality standards.