Proton-M rocket
Russian Proton-M rocket lifting offGetty Images

A Russian rocket carrying a Mexican satellite malfunctioned and burnt up over Siberia soon after launching today (16 May).

The Proton-M carrier rocket was destroyed within minutes of its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

The cause of the accident is being investigated.

Today's launch was being broadcast live by Roscosmos. Coverage ceased around eight minutes into the flight. "There has been a malfunction on board the booster rocket. This broadcast is now over," the presenter announced.

In a statement, Roscosmos said that, "an emergency situation took place when the Proton-M rocket launched with a MexSat-1 satellite. The reasons are being identified".

The agency added that the accident occurred at an altitude of 161km (100 miles) and that the communications satellite, booster and third stage burnt up almost entirely in the atmosphere. There is no evidence of any debris falling to Earth.

The BBC reports that communications were lost with the Proton-M rocket soon before it was supposed to separate from the third-stage rocket. This is consistent with reporting from Russian news agencies which cite space industry sources to say that the engine of the third-stage rocket switched off in error.

So far there are no reports that the Mexican satellite cargo has been found. Roscosmos says that the satellite was insured by its client. Russia earns substantial amounts of income from launches of Western and Asian satellites.

Launches of Proton-type rockets are to halt until the reason for the malfunction is established. The Proton-M carrier rocket is Russia's main vehicle for commercial satellite launches and has been in use since the Soviet era. But in recent years has it been repeatedly grounded.

Almost exactly a year ago, the Russians lost another telecommunications satellite following another accident involving the rocket's third stage.

The latest incident follows another recent major mishap in the Russian space programme. On Tuesday, the return of three astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) had to be delayed.

This followed an incident on 28 April when technicians lost control of an unmanned cargo ship carrying supplies to the ISS. The cargo ship burnt up as it re-entered the atmosphere.

President Putin has been informed of the satellite failure, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.