Unmanned Russian rocket crashes soon after launch

July 2, 2013 at 6:51 AM
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MOSCOW, July 2 (UPI) -- A Russian rocket carrying three satellites crashed in a fireball seconds after launch Tuesday, officials said. No casualties were reported.

Officials said a cloud of poisonous smoke generated by the rocket's burning fuel could spread across the local area near Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, and personnel at the space center were being evacuated, RIA Novosti reported.

"There was an accident during the Proton-M launch. The rocket fell and exploded on ... the launch site," a Federal Space Agency Roscosmos spokesman said.

The cause was not immediately determined. However, Kazakhstan's Emergencies Ministry said an almost instantaneous failure of the rocket's first-stage engine likely was to blame, RIA Novosti said.

It is the second unsuccessful launch of a Proton-M carrier rocket with Russia's Glonass global positioning system on board in the last three years.

The launch was broadcast live by Rossiya-24 television channel. Footage shows the rocket rolling as it flew in a shaky arc, then begin to disintegrate as it caught fire. It crashed to the ground, exploding into a fireball and smoke.

The entire flight lasted 17 seconds, a space agency spokesman said.

Rain helped to contain the smoke from burning heptyl, amyl and kerosene rocket fuels, but it "might" drift, said Vladimir Bozhko, head of Kazakhstan's Emergencies Ministry.

Work at the Baikonur space center likely will be suspended for two or three months because of contamination, a space official told RIA Novosti.

A July 27 launch of a Progress M-20M spacecraft from the center likely will be delayed as well, the official said.

A commission led by Roscosmos deputy chief Alexander Lopatin will investigate the causes of the crash.

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