- Associated Press - Thursday, August 18, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia lost contact with a communications satellite shortly after its launch Thursday, the government space agency said, the latest in a series of failures that has dogged the nation’s space program.

The Express-AM4 satellite, described by officials as Russia’s most powerful telecommunications satellite, was launched atop a Proton-M booster rocket from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Federal Space Agency said in a statement the booster itself worked fine, but a subsequent failure of the additional upper stage, the Briz-M, resulted in the loss of communications with the satellite. It said efforts were being made to re-establish contact with the 5.8-ton (6.38-ton) craft.

The satellite has been insured for 7.5 billion rubles (about $260 million or euro180 million) with Russian Ingosstrakh insurance company.

The satellite was to be put into a geostationary orbit to provide digital TV broadcasting for Russia’s far eastern regions. Broadcasters said that the failure would likely delay the planned transfer to digital TV.

The Briz-M upper stage has experienced several failures, most recently in February when its 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 competing with the U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS. That mishap eventually cost then-space chief Anatoly Perminov his job.

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