Russia loses telecom satellite; China, Bolivia build new one

Russia saw yet another ambitious space project go down the drain, when on Friday it lost contact with its telecom satellite that was launched just a day prior.


The Express-AM4 satellite launched at 1:25 am on Thursday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was designed to provide digital TV, telephone and internet services across Russia.


According to a statement issued by Russia’s space agency, Roskosmos, the launch went ahead as planned and the satellite, along with the upper-stage rocket was separated in due time. However, there were problems ahead of the planned fifth transmission of telemetric information and in attempts to receive a signal from both the rocket and the satellite, ending in it ultimately losing contact with the space agency. “Measures are now being taken to establish communication with the Express-AM4 satellite,” Roskosmos announced.


The 5.7-metric-ton Express-AM4 was developed jointly with France’s EADS Astrium and is the biggest in Europe till date. The satellite has been insured for $260 million by the Russian Ingosstrakh insurance company. It was meant to support the widely proclaimed shift to digital broadcasting in Russia.


Vladimir Popovkin, newly-appointed chief of Roskosmos, had recently announced that Russia aims to reduce its focus on manned flights, to engage in more commercially rewarding spheres such as telecom and internet satellite launches. The loss of Express-AM4 will no doubt be a big blow to this grand plan.


The Briz-M upper stage has experienced several failures over the years. In April, three navigation satellites missed their orbits and crashed into the ocean. In February, the Briz-M malfunction led to the loss of a Russian military satellite. In December 2010, another technical glitch led to the loss of three GLONASS-M navigation satellites, which were to be part of Russia’s satellite navigation system, which was to compete with GPS.


Meanwhile, China and Bolivia have jointly launched a telecommunications satellite project that is set to be completed within three years.


According to the deal signed between the Bolivian state-run space agency and China Great Wall Industry Corporation on December 13,2010, a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC), the Tupac Katari satellite will give Bolivia its first communications satellite by the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014. This will provide telecom services in Bolivia to support the country’s educational and medical initiatives. Once completed, the satellite will be launched at Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province.


According to a statement by CASTC, China will work to ensure the quality and high technology of the satellite and its supporting facilities to better serve Bolivia’s economic development and needs of its people. This joint-project is also set to promote friendship as well as technological and economic exchanges, between the two countries.


The satellite is being funded by China Development Bank.


By Beryl M
[email protected]