The test launch of the Bulava sea-launched ballistic missile, conducted on December 23, 2008, ended in a failure after a malfunction of the third stage of the missile triggered its self-destruct mechanism. The launch was performed about 06:00 MSK (03:00 UTC) from submerged Dmitry Donskoy submarine of the Northern Fleet deployed in the White Sea. This was the tenth flight test of the missile (not counting two pop-up tests) and the sixth reported failure. 

The problem appears to be related to the quality control during the assembly, rather than to problems with missile design - very similar to the problems that plagued the Bulava predecessor, Bark missile, and led to termination of that program. (The failure does not seem to be related in any way to the delay with the launch.)

Today's launch was supposed to complete the formal flight test program of the Bulava missile. Had it been successful, the missile would have gotten an approval of the State Commission that oversees the tests, allowing it to move to the serial production and deployment stage (although, as it was a normal Soviet practice, tests and work on the missile would have continued anyway). Now the Navy is planning to conduct at least five flight tests in 2009 instead of 3-4 that were planned before.

The continuing problems with the Bulava program will probably affect the deployment plans as well. At this point, the Russian Navy is planning to bring the first Project 955 submarine with Bulava missiles, Yuri Dolgoruky, into service in 2009. While this is still possible, it is likely that this date will now slip into at least 2010.