Kazakhstan: Russian Rocket Explodes Shortly After Takeoff
A Russian rocket has exploded and crashed shortly after taking off from the Baikonur space-launch site in central Kazakhstan. The incident is likely to make further waves in Russo-Kazakh relations, which are already strained over cosmic cooperation.
Dramatic live video broadcast by the Rossiya 24 channel showed the Proton-M rocket taking off from Baikonur then veering off course before bursting into flames, breaking up and crashing to the ground.
The rocket engines cut out 17 seconds after takeoff and it crashed 2.5 kilometers from the launch pad, Russian space agency Roskosmos said. It added that there were no reported casualties or damage at the scene of the crash. Video of the incident showed the burning rocket, which was carrying three satellites into space, setting fire to the ground where it landed.
A Russian space industry source told RIA Novosti that problems with the flight control system were the likely cause of the crash, but Kazakh Emergencies Situations Minister Vladimir Boyko preliminarily put it down to engine failure, as a result of which there was “combustion of fuel, some of which fell to the ground and continued to burn,” he said in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
Talgat Musabayev, head of Kazakhstan’s space agency Kazkosmos, said the space site had been sealed off and there was no immediate danger to the town of Baikonur 30 kilometers away. Nevertheless, inhabitants were advised to stay indoors with their windows closed as a toxic cloud drifted over the area.
Kazakh Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov ordered a government commission set up to investigate the environmental impact of the accident. Toxic rocket fuel spills from Russian rockets have long been a sore point in Kazakhstan, which leases Baikonur to Russia for $115 million per year under a deal that runs until 2050. A handful of activists protested outside the Russian consulate in Almaty over the crash.
Since last December, when Kazakhstan provoked an outcry in Russia by threatening to tear up the Baikonur lease, Moscow and Astana have engaged in periodic verbal spats over space cooperation. Moscow is building its own spaceport in its Far East, but until the first launch there (due in 2015) Russia is dependent on Soviet-era Baikonur to launch all its manned space missions and most commercial satellites.
One bone of contention has been Proton rocket launch slots: Russia wanted to send 17 into space from Baikonur this year, but Kazakhstan has allowed it to launch only 12 – one of which has now blown up.