Russian Dnepr rocket launches suspended

(Associated Press WorldStream via NewsEdge) The launch of Russian Dnepr rockets from Kazakhstan has been suspended indefinitely following the crash of a rocket last week.

The rocket, carrying 18 satellites, crashed shortly after liftoff in an uninhabited area about 24 kilometers south of Baikonur, Russia's main space launch facility.

No injuries or damage were reported, but there were fears that the crash seriously polluted the area with the highly poisonous fuel heptyl. Kazakh emergency officials said the concentration of various toxic and other harmful substances around the location exceeded permissible levels by at least 1,000 times.

Russia is expected to compensate Kazakhstan for any environmental damage.

The Soviet-era Baikonur cosmodrome will be barred from launching Dnepr rockets until the cause of the crash is established, said Azamat Abdymomunov, who heads a government commission probing the accident.

Preliminary reports said a problem occurred when the rocket's third stage detached. Kazakh officials said the engine shut off 73 seconds into the flight.

Russia's space program has recently suffered several embarrassing failures, jeopardizing hopes of earning more revenue from commercial launches of foreign satellites.

The next scheduled satellite launch from Baikonur is using a Proton rocket, which also uses heptyl, but was not affected by the Dnepr suspension.

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