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Rocket failure concerns Russians

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

The Russian Proton-M rocket that blew up seconds after blastoff on Tuesday destroyed three satellites worth $200 million, spurred authorities to indefinitely delay two other launches this month and damaged the image of Russia's lucrative commercial space industry.

The rocket, which appeared to stall and roll about 10 seconds after it was launched, also spewed 600 tons of toxic fuel across the launch pad and surrounding steppe of the Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan, raising fears of contamination and further strain in Moscow's relationship with its former Soviet sister republic.

Russia rents the Baikonur facility and its few surrounding villages from Kazakhstan on a lease that expires in 2050. But environmental damage at the remote space center and at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test facility have become points of contention between the Kremlin and leaders of now-independent and economically diversifying Kazakhstan.

A Russian space agency official was quoted by the RIA-Novosti news agency as saying work at Baikonur is likely to be suspended for two to three months to clean up the fuel dumped across a wide swath around the crash site.

Tuesday's rocket failure was “another setback for Moscow's space program,” RIA-Novosti stated, recalling a 2010 Proton-M rocket crash that destroyed three other satellites intended for the Russian GLONASS system, a global positioning network like the GPS that guides American drivers, hikers, golfers and fliers.

Another Proton-M failed in August 2011, and complications with the Briz engine on the rocket scrapped a Proton mission last summer. In December, a booster failed to lift the Proton to its planned satellite deployment position, necessitating a second mission to put the satellite into the correct orbit.

In July 2006, a Russian Dnepr rocket carrying 18 satellites crashed a minute and a half after launch, destroying its entire payload and setting back Russia's commercial launch agenda for months.

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