The crash of a Proton-M launch vehicle carrying 3 Glonass navigation satellites seconds after liftoff at the Baikonur space center on Tuesday morning could have been caused by a burned out pipe supplying oxidizer to the first-stage engine, a high-ranking source from Russia's space rocket industry told Interfax-AVN on Tuesday.
"After the engine's emergency shutoff, when the rocket started to fall, dark brown smoke was clearly visible. This can indicate that there was a perforation in an oxidizer pipeline," he said.
"On the first second after the [rocket's] liftoff was registered, the rocket deviated to the right," the source said. "The control system was struggling for the rocket's survival and was propelling it vertically as long as it could," he said.
"However, from the 4th second on, the pitch deviation was becoming critical, and the engines were shut off on the 17th second," he said.
"When the rocket started to fall, dark brown smoke was clearly visible, which could happen if the first-stage engine's oxidizer pipeline was burned out," the source said.
Engines for the first stage of the Proton-M launch vehicle are manufactured by the Proton-PM plant located in Perm, which is incorporated in the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center.
This plant also recently started serial productions of the RD-191 rocket engine for the Angara launch vehicle, although the engines for the first experimental versions of this rocket were manufactured by the Energomash company located outside Moscow.
Rocket fuel used for the Proton and its upper stage consists of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.
The source branded as nonsensical media reports speculating that the DM-03 upper stage could have been blamed for the Tuesday Proton crash, arguing that the upper stage was supposed to start operating only on the 15th minute of the flight at an altitude of some 190 kilometers.
"We have not had such a crash involving the spill of toxic rocket fuel components for a very long time," the source said.
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