During the last satellite launch of 2000, six Russian Strela 3-class data communications messaging satellites, still attached to their upper stage, were lost during re-entry into the Earth atmosphere. The loss followed the failure of the third stage of a Ukrainian-built Tsyklon 3 booster launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on 27 December.

Debris fell in an area 58km (93 miles) south-east of Ostrov Vrangelya island, in the Bering Straits, East Siberia. Tsyklon boosters have been grounded until an inquiry has been completed.

Tsyklon manufacturer KB Yuzhnoye says that the third stage of the Tsyklon 3 veered off course and its engine was shut down by the flight computer at T+367.

The first stage firing was to have placed the stage into a parking orbit, with a second firing placing the satellites into a 1,420km circular, 82° inclination orbit.

Three of the Strela 3 craft were military Gonets-D1 versions and three were to be used for civilian purposes. Six more satellites have been ordered from Reshetnikov NPO, in Siberia.

The last Tsyklon launch of Strela 3 satellites in June 1998 failed to place the spacecraft into the right orbit and they eventually drifted out of the dual-place orbital constellation, says the UK's Molniya Space Consultancy which monitors Russian space activities.

The Tsyklon 3 has made 111 successful flights since 1977, with two failing to reach correct orbit and five failures. The two-stage Tsyklon M has flown 102 times.

Source: Flight International