Russia abruptly cancels rocket launch

New York Times News ServiceJune 27, 2014 

— The long-awaited inaugural launch of a new Russian space rocket, the Angara, was abruptly canceled Friday just minutes before takeoff, the Russian space agency Roscosmos reported.

The decision to abandon the high-profile launch prompted President Vladimir Putin to order that officials provide an explanation within one hour.

The launch, from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia, was canceled after an automatic “abort” system was triggered, officials said.

Roscosmos tentatively rescheduled for Saturday afternoon, suggesting, at least preliminarily, that the problem was not extremely serious.

The Angara rocket has been in development for more than 20 years, since shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is intended to become the primary vehicle for Russia’s unmanned space missions and to secure the independence of the Russian space program.

The rocket has some crucial benefits for Russia. It can be launched from Plesetsk, rather than the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which Russia uses under a long-term lease agreement with its southern neighbor. The Angara is also manufactured entirely by Russia, potentially reducing its reliance on foreign rocket technology, especially from Ukraine.

The conflict with Ukraine has underscored the need for Russia to produce its own rockets, some Russian officials have said. At the same time, the United States is entirely dependent on Russia for its manned space program, including trips to the International Space Station.

Russia’s space program has suffered several humiliating failures in recent years, many involving the existing generation of Proton-M rockets. In the latest setback, a Proton-M carrying a sophisticated communications satellite crashed last month shortly after takeoff from Baikonur, apparently as a result of engine failure.

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