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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Proton-M Rocket Crashes After Liftoff

APA Proton-M rocket lifting off in July.
A Proton-M rocket carrying a Japanese communications satellite malfunctioned after liftoff Thursday and crashed in Kazakhstan, officials said.

Nobody was hurt, but all launches of Proton rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome were suspended, pending an investigation.

The rocket failed to put the JCSAT-11 satellite into orbit because of a problem during the second stage, the U.S.-based American-Russian joint venture International Launch Services said.

The rocket failed 139 seconds after its launch from the Russian-rented cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and its second and third stages veered from the planned trajectory at an altitude of 74 kilometers, said Alexander Vorobyov, a spokesman for the Federal Space Agency.

Under an agreement with Kazakhstan, launches of Proton rockets were automatically suspended until the cause of the crash is determined, he said.

He said that was unlikely to affect future launches, but an official at state-controlled Khrunichev State Research and Production Center, which makes Proton rockets, said it would depend on when an official investigative commission delivers its report.

Following an accident involving a different kind of rocket launched from Baikonur last year, the report came in about six weeks, and Proton launches are scheduled for November and December, Khrunichev spokesman Alexander Bobrenyov said.

Kazakh space agency chief Talgat Musabayev said the accident was likely caused by the failure of steering mechanisms aboard the rocket, but Bobrenyov said it was too early to make that determination. The rocket was carrying more than 200 tons of fuel, including highly toxic heptyl, Musabayev said, expressing concern about contamination around the crash site, an uninhabited area.

Kazakhstan would be fully compensated for environmental damage under existing agreements, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov said.

Russia has been aggressively trying to expand its presence in the international market for commercial and government satellite and space-industry launches, though its efforts have seen several high-profile failures.

In July 2006, a Dnepr rocket carrying 18 satellites for various clients crashed shortly after takeoff from the Baikonur, spreading highly toxic fuel over a wide swath of uninhabited territory in Kazakhstan.