MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia launched its first rocket from a new cosmodrome on Thursday, a day after a technical glitch forced a postponement of the event in a sign of continuing crisis in the nation’s space industry.
An unmanned Soyuz-2.1A rocket, carrying three satellites, roared into a clear blue sky from the launchpad at Vostochny cosmodrome in the remote Amur Region near China’s border at 0501 Moscow time (0201 GMT), state television showed.
The satellites separated from the rocket’s third stage about nine minutes into the flight and headed for their designated orbits, Russian news agencies quoted officials from the space agency Roscosmos as saying.
The launch was called off less than two minutes before lift-off on Wednesday, upsetting President Vladimir Putin. He had flown thousands of kilometers to watch what Russian media and officials called a historic event.
“I want to congratulate you. There is something to be proud of,” Putin told cosmodrome workers and Roscosmos officials after watching Thursday’s launch at Vostochny, Russian media reported.
“The equipment overreached itself a little bit yesterday,” he said. “In principle, we could have held the launch yesterday, but the equipment overdid its job and stopped the launch. This is a normal thing.”
His remarks contrasted with his tough words after Wednesday’s aborted launch, when he criticized Roscosmos and government officials for the large number of technical problems in the space industry, saying that “there should be an appropriate reaction”.
Putin reprimanded Roscosmos head Igor Komarov and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of space and military industries, Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
Delays and corruption have blighted work on the new cosmodrome. A European Space Agency launch in French Guiana, using a similar Russian Soyuz rocket, was also delayed by technical problems this month.
Problems with Russian space rockets are worrisome not just for the Kremlin but also for the U.S. space program. NASA has depended on Russia to fly its astronauts to the International Space Station since it retired its space shuttle.
The Soviet Union pioneered manned space flight when it fired Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961.
But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s space program has had to retrench for lack of cash. For years it filled gaps in its budget by taking paying tourists into space.
The Vostochny spaceport, the first civilian rocket launch site on Russian territory, is intended to phase out Russia’s reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome, which it leases from ex-Soviet Kazakhstan.
“The main thing is that this launch pad is now working, it has been prepared well by you and it is functioning,” Putin told cosmodrome workers on Thursday. “We are now facing a second stage here, to accommodate a heavy rocket.”
“We have a lot of work in front of us, and it’s daunting. But beyond all doubt, this is ... a very serious step forward in the development of Russia’s space exploration.”
Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Roche