MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian booster rocket carrying three satellites crashed at a Russia-leased cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday shortly after the launch.
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.
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 crashed in Baikonur in August 2012 when it failed to place two satellites into orbit. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev chided officials after that incident, saying that Russia had lost ten 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.