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Russia test launches first new space rocket since Soviet era

(Reuters) – Russia launched its first new design of space rocket since the Soviet era from the northern military space port of Plesetsk on Wednesday, aiming to break its reliance on foreign suppliers as well as the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Angara rocket’s quiet debut was in marked contrast to the live broadcast of an embarrassing aborted first launch attempt, watched by President Vladimir Putin via video link from the Kremlin.

“The first test launch of the light-class Angara-1.2PP space rocket was conducted by the Air and Space Defence Forces,” Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement, cited by Russian news agencies.

The rocket blasted off at 1600 Moscow time (1200 GMT), it said, on a planned roughly 20 minute suborbital short flight across Russia’s Arctic coast line.

More than two decades in the works, the new generation Angara rockets are a key to President Vladimir Putin’s effort to reform a once-pioneering space industry hobbled after years of budget cuts and a brain drain in the 1990s. [ID:nL6N0P82U4]

The designer of the first stage RD-191 engine, Energomash, blamed the failure on its first trial launch on a drop in the pressure of the liquid oxygen tank. [ID:nL6N0PC24P]

The rocket is the first entirely designed and built within post-Soviet Russia’s borders – ordered by then President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s to break dependence on other ex-Soviet republics and a launch pad Russia leases from Kazakhstan.

A potential commercial rival to Arianespace of France and Californian-based SpaceX, a heavier version of the modular launcher is designed to replace Russia’s workhorse Proton rocket which has suffered an embarrassing litany of failures.

But industry experts estimate its development has cost billions of dollars and the Angara rockets will only become commercially viable in another decade if launched from a new cosmodrome Russia is building in the far east.

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