3 Jul 2013

Russian rocket crashed soon after take-off

7:45 am on 3 July 2013

A Russian rocket carrying three navigation satellites crashed shortly after lift-off from the Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan on Tuesday after its engines suddenly switched off.

The crash led to a large spill of heptyl, a highly toxic rocket propellant, but there were no reports of casualties.

Rossiya-24 television showed footage of the unmanned Proton-M booster rocket veering off course 17 seconds after take-off. It flew horizontally and began to come apart in flames, crashing in a ball of fire near the launch pad.

The Roscosmos space agency said the accident had been caused by the emergency switch-off of the rocket's engines 17 seconds into the flight. The RIA news agency reported the shutdown could have been caused by a problem with the engine or the guidance system.

Kazakh Emergencies Minister Vladimir Bozhko told an emergency government meeting the rocket contained 172 tonnes of heptyl propellant.

Kazakhstan's Kazcosmos space agency head Talgat Musabayev said it was raining in the area, so toxic clouds would probably not reach the town of Baikonur some 60km away.

However, Kazakh Interior Minister Kalmukhambet Kasymov ordered people to stay at home and not to open windows. He also ordered shops and public catering to close.

Rossiya-24 reported the estimated loss from the three satellites was about $US200 million.

Russia has lost 10 satellites in seven failed launches in just over a year.