By Alissa De Carbonnel and Maria Tsvetkova
Russia was forced to abandon Friday’s debut launch of its first new space rocket since the Soviet era when the Angara booster cut out during a final countdown watched by President Vladimir Putin via video link from the Kremlin.
Angara is seen as a test of Russia’s ability to turn around a once-pioneering space industry struggling to recover from a loss of highly trained specialists and years of budget curbs. It is also part of a move to consolidate the space program on Russian soil, breaking dependence on other ex-Soviet republics.
A senior military commander told Putin an automatic system had aborted the launch, without giving a reason for the delay, but that it had been put back for 24 hours until Saturday.
More than two decades in the making, the new generation rocket is a centerpiece of Putin’s plan to reform the once-pioneering space industry and launch satellites from a new space port being built in Russia’s far east.
The video link showed the Angara-1.2PP rocket begin to shake in its start position at the northern Plesetsk military launch pad, but a silence descended on the Kremlin conference room as the seconds stretched out and the launch failed to go ahead.
“The automatic system aborted the launch,” Alexander Golovko, commander of Russia’s Air and Space Defense Forces told Putin, who ordered a report on the cause of the delay.
The development of the Angara – a new generation of rockets entirely designed and built within post-Soviet Russia’s borders – is intended to break a reliance on foreign suppliers and the Baikonur launchpad Russia leases from Kazakhstan.
“This is the first launch vehicle that has been developed and built from scratch in Russia,” Igor Lissov, an expert with trade journal Novosti Kosmonovatiki. “Everything else we have is a modernization of our Soviet legacy.”
Work on the Angara began two years after the break up of the Soviet Union when Moscow lost the maker of its workhorse Zenit and Dnepr rockets in newly-independent Ukraine and its main launch facility in Kazakhstan.
For some industry insiders, the crisis in Moscow’s relations with Kiev over its annexation of Crimea and a separatist rebellion in the eastern Ukraine proves Russia’s need to produce and launch its rockets domestically.
“This (project) decision was made already way back in 1993, with an awareness that our former Soviet allies can ditch us at any moment,” Lissov said.