MOSCOW — A Russian booster rocket carrying three satellites crashed shortly after launch at a Russian-leased cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today.
The Proton-M booster unexpectedly shut down the engine 17 seconds into the flight and crashed some 2 kilometers (over a mile) away from the Baikonur launch pad, the Russian Space Agency said in a statement.
News channel Rossiya-24 broadcast the launch live early today. The footage showed the rocket tilt to one side shortly after the launch, curve downward, catch fire and crash.
Russian officials said there were no casualties or damage immediately reported. Meanwhile, the Interfax news agency quoted Kazakh Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Bozhkov as saying that the burning rocket fuel has blanketed the launch pad with a toxic cloud. But he said authorities have yet to determine its potential danger to the environment.
Another Proton-M booster carrying two satellites crashed in Baikonur in August 2012. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev chided officials after that incident, saying that Russia had lost 10 satellites in seven failed launches in just over a year.
Russian space officials have blamed the failures on manufacturing flaws and engineering mistakes. But observers say that the problem is rooted in a post-Soviet industrial meltdown that has stalled the modernization of the space industry.
Medvedev today instructed Dmitry Rogozin, the point man for industry and space, to come up with a plan to tighten control of the space industry and prevent accidents like this one from happening.