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Russian rocket destroys 18 satellites

Ground control to major explosion

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A Russian rocket carrying 18 satellites crashed on launch in Kazakhstan late Wednesday.

Mission contollers reported the rocket's engines shut down 86 seconds into the flight. The Russian-built Dnepr vehicle - a converted ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) - then piled into the ground 25km away. There were no injuries.

All of the 18 satellites on board were destroyed in the crash. International customers included Italy and the US, and Belarus' first foray into space since the break up of the Soviet Union. Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko had travelled to the Kazakh steppes to witness the launch, Reuters reports.

Igor Panarin, spokesman for the Russian space agency Roskosmos said: "A special emergency team has been formed to probe into the causes of the failed launch," Itar-Tass news agency reports.

"According to preliminary findings, problems in the first stage of the booster rocket in the 74th second of the flight was the main reason," he added.

Last October, a Russian launch plunged the European Space Agency's €135m Cryosat climate project into the Arctic Sea. ®

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