Russian rocket crashes, explodes in failed launch

Unmanned rocket, carrying $200M worth of navigation satellites and toxic fuel, crashes seconds after liftoff

An unmanned Russian rocket carrying three satellites suddenly stalled 17 seconds after liftoff and fell back to Earth where it exploded in a fiery crash.

The rocket crashed moments after takeoff from the Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan, spilling its highly toxic propellant, heptyl, according to the Reuters news service. There have been no reports of injuries, but the three navigation satellites, worth about $200 million, were lost.

Footage of the crash, which quickly showed up on YouTube, shows a Proton-M booster rocket blasting off but then straying off course and igniting in flames as it falls to the ground where it exploded near the launch pad.

Dramatic video of an unmanned Russian rocket crashing in Kazhakstan. (Source: Russia Today)

According to a Google translation of a report from Roscosmos, the website for Russia's space agency, the crash was caused by an emergency engine shutoff just 17 seconds after liftoff.

The crash is another blow to the Russia Federal Space Agency, which has lost 10 satellites in seven failed launches in a little more than a year.

Since retiring its fleet of space shuttles in the summer of 2011, NASA, the U.S. space agency, has relied heavily on the Russians to carry supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA has not made a statement about today's crash.

In an emergency government meeting called within hours of the crash, Kazakh Emergencies Minister Vladimir Bozhko said the rocket contained 172 tons of heptyl propellant, according to Reuters. Rainy conditions combined with low cloud cover is expected to keep any toxic cloud from reaching the town of Baikonur, which is about 38 miles away.

Regardless, officials have warned nearby residents to stay in their homes and keep their windows closed, Reuters reported.

This article, Russian rocket crashes, explodes in failed launch, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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