In Kazakhstan we have three major problem…

… social, economic, and… exploding space rocket.  (Apologies to Borat, but I couldn’t resist!)

Spaceflight Now has the full story:

A Russian Proton rocket went out of control and slammed into the steppes of Kazakhstan mere moments after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Monday night.

The government booster was carrying three Russian navigation satellites on the ill-fated mission that launched at 0238 GMT (10:38 p.m. EDT).

Live video showed the Proton gyrating left and then right as it ascended off the pad before going horizontal, barrel rolling and falling into a nose dive. The front end of the rocket sheared away and the main stage erupted in a massive fireball before hitting the ground in a horrific explosion.

The entire flight appeared to last a half-minute.

Russian rockets do not carry self-destruct explosives like Western boosters, which prevented any attempt to destroy the wayward Proton before impact.

A Russian Federal Space Agency statement said an emergency committee being created would be headed by Deputy Head of Roscosmos Alexander Lopatin.

Standing 19-stories tall, the rocket weighed nearly 1.5 million pounds at launch, its first three stages loaded with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants and the upper stage filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen.

The Proton is built by the Khrunichev State Research and Production and RSC Energia makes the Block DM upper stage.

Six main engines ignite at liftoff to power the vehicle away from the launch pad and burns for two minutes. The second stage and its four engines fire through five-and-a-half minutes of the mission before the third stage and its single engine takes over. The upper stage then completes the necessary burns to shape the orbit for deployment of the spacecraft.

Monday’s launch featured a three-stage Proton core vehicle topped with a Block DM upper stage to maneuver three GLONASS navigation satellites — Nos. 48, 49 and 50 — into their desired Earth orbit.

The flight was carrying fresh craft for the space-based navigation constellation, which transmits positioning signals for military and civilian users. The satellites fly 12,000 miles above the planet in 64.8-degree inclination orbits. The system is similar in concept to the U.S. GPS network.

It was 388th Proton rocket to launch since 1965 and the fifth this year, following a series of commercial missions.

The program has suffered five failures in the past two-and-a-half years, mostly due to upper stage issues. Three other GLONASS satellites were lost in a botched launch in late 2010 due to a fuel miscalculation that prevented the vehicle from reaching orbit.

The next launch, presumably grounded for the investigation, was slated for July 21 carrying the commercial ASTRA 2E broadcast satellite for Europe.

Here’s an amateur video showing the entire sequence.  At a ~9 second delay, this puts the amateur observers at around 3 km from the launch pad (assuming the launch pad is at sea level, which it probably isn’t, but the estimate is still probably close enough).  These guys were lucky that “exploding space rocket” didn’t head in their direction…

Of course, this begs the question: why does all interesting/weird stuff always seem to happen in that part of the world?

In Soviet Russia, asteroid plays YOU!

The nerd community had a bit of news earlier today: a meteor streaking across the skies of Russia.  Since everyone in Russia seems to have a dashcam (apparently it’s a car insurance requirement over there due to police/judicial corruption), we even got footage of it:

While the meteor didn’t cause any damage itself, the sonic blasts were significantly more destructive; current reports seem to indicate around 400 injured, mainly from broken/falling glass.  Not surprising: the sonic wave arrived ~30 seconds after the meteor passed over, and a lot of people would have been at various windows having a look at what had just happened (and in their defence, if I saw a massive flare like that, with a beautiful contrail in its wake, I’d be out there as well trying to get photos for this blog!).  It’s similar to tsunamis: most fatalities happen to people who chase the receding sea, unaware that the reason for the receding waters is that they’re about to un-recede in a rather spectacular and destructive way.

(You may want to turn your speakers/headclamps down for the sonic blast videos, unless you either enjoy extremely loud bangs or you’d like a crash course in Russian swear words…)

Of course, being Russia and therefore having Russian temperatues, blown-out windows are a serious problem in winter, so hopefully the emergency services there are more jacked up than ours.

The big question here is: is this related to the asteroid 2012 DA14?  For those of you living under a rock, it’s an asteroid with an estimated diameter of 50 meters, an estimated mass of 190,000 metric tons — and it will be passing approximately 27,000 kilometres from Earth’s surface in a few hours (19:25 UTC, 21:25 South African time).  Over on Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait seems to think that it’s totally unrelated:

For one thing, this occurred about 16 hours before DA14 passes. At 8 kilometers per second that’s nearly half a million kilometers away from DA14. That puts it on a totally different orbit.  For another, from the lighting, time of day, and videos showing the rising Sun, it looks like this was moving mostly east-to-west. I may be off, but that’s how it looks. DA14 is approaching Earth from the south, so any fragment of that rock would also appear to move south-to-north.

However, some folks over on Slashdot aren’t so sure:

Not necessarily. Imagine a basketball in front of you. That is the Earth. Now draw an imaginary line from your nose to the left side of the basketball. Your line is going east to west. Now draw another line to the right of the basketball. Your line is now going west to east. Same point of origin. Same basic direction of movement. Different perceived trajectory for those living on the basketball.

Information on the meteor is still rather sketchy, although we may get a better picture in the next few days — it appears that the meteor broke up in the atmosphere and may have rained down some chunks on the ground.  If true, and if and when those chunks are found, we may learn more.

For now, I’m going to have to end off with this image by EUMETSAT, showing the vapour trail:

Meteor vapour trail, 15th Feb 2013

UPDATE: 6000.co.za reminded me that something similar happened in Gauteng back in 2009.