MOSCOW, July 1 (Reuters) - The debut of Russia’s first new space rocket since the Soviet era will have to be put off for weeks, not days, a senior official said on Tuesday, an embarrassing admission for the country’s once-pioneering space industry.
The launch of the Angara-1.2PP rocket was aborted seconds before it was scheduled to blast off from Russia’s northern Plesetsk cosmodrome on Friday, watched by President Vladimir Putin via live video link from the Kremlin.
“Today the rocket launch has been taken off the launchpad and sent to the technical complex,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was quoted as saying by state news agency Itar-Tass.
“Not days but weeks will be needed to return the rocket to the launchpad,” he said, during a visit to the construction site of Russia’s new space port in its far east.
A problem in the fuel pumping system is to blame, the rocket’s engine builder NPO Energomash said on Tuesday.
“An emergency shutdown occurred 79 seconds before the start of the launch,” it said on its website. “The reason ... was a fall in the pressure of the oxidizer tank.”
More than two decades in the works, the new generation of rockets are seen as a test of Russia’s ability to revive a space industry after years of crimped budgets and a brain drain in the 1990s.
The rocket, entirely designed and built within post-Soviet Russia’s borders, is a centrepiece of Putin’s industry reform plan and his move to consolidate the space programme on Russian soil, breaking dependence on other ex-Soviet republics.
A potential commercial rival to France’s Arianespace and California-based SpaceX rockets, a heavier-lift version of the Angara due to be tested later this year is slated to replace Russia’s workhorse Proton rocket, which has suffered an embarrassing litany of costly botched launches. (Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel)