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Russian President Putin warns of 'consequences' over delayed space launch

The launch of the first rocket from a new Russian space facility has been delayed after a last-minute glitch. President Putin said there would be 'consequences' if it turns out the hitch was the result of 'sloppiness.'

The Soyuz 2.1a carrying three satellites was due to blast off from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's far eastern Amur region at 11:01 am (0201 GMT), but was aborted 150 seconds before liftoff.

"The automated control system initiated an automatic halt," Russia's Roscosmos space agency said in a brief statement, adding that the launch has been rescheduled to Thursday.

Human error?

The space agency is working to find out what went wrong, Roscosmos' deputy head Alexander Ivanov told the Tass news agency, adding that the failure was not related to the facility's infrastructure. He also ruled out human factors.

Roscosmos spokesman Igor Burenkov told Kommersant FM radio the launch was aborted because data from the rocket showed a problem but suggested it was simply a "technical malfunction" and that the spacecraft was fine.

"We have managed to locate the problem spot fairly precisely," Roscosmos general director Igor Komarov said in televised comments. "I think there is every reason to consider that this can be cleared up within 24 hours."

However a space industry source told the Interfax news agency that space chiefs could opt to postpone the launch further.

Russian president, Vladimitr Putin, at the Vostochny Cosmodrome on a previous visit

Russian president, Vladimitr Putin, at the Vostochny Cosmodrome when it was being built

Vostochny: we have a problem

The launch of a Soyuz rocket carrying three satellites is to inaugurate space flight from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East. The facility is aimed at reducing Russia's dependence on the Baikonur complex in Kazakhstan, which Moscow has had to rent out for $115 million (101 million euros) a year since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin put out

Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told journalists that Putin, who went to the Vostochny site to observe the launch, will stay at there until the rocket has been launched.

Russland Bau Wostotschny Kosmodrom

The Vostochny Cosmodrome being built

The new spaceport has been hailed by the Russian president as the country's biggest current building project with a budget estimated at between 300 billion and 400 billion rubles ($4.5 billion and $6 billion).

"Without any doubt we will have to draw conclusions," a displeased-looking Putin told a meeting of space industry officials at the cosmodrome Wednesday.

"Despite the shortcomings, Russia is a leader in the number of launches. That is good," he said in footage broadcast on state television. "But the fact is there are a large number of hitches. That is bad. There should be an appropriate reaction."

Independent expert Vadim Lukashevich said the delay was not out of the ordinary but that the presence of Putin could have made the organizers nervous.

But, Lukashevich added, Putin's presence could have had an effect. "The military and everyone who launches rockets have a concept of 'visit effect'. When top authorities come, there is nervousness and greater possibility of error."

Russland Weltraumbahnhof Wostotschny

A carrier vehicle at the Vostochny Cosmodrome

Vostochny: a distant place

Some 10,000 workers since 2012 have been building 115 kilometres (70 miles) of roads in the immense and sparsely populated region near the border of northern China, as well as 125 kilometres of railways and a new town for 25,000 people, named after space pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

The Vostochny Cosmodrome is 1,560 kilometers (960 miles) from Russia's eastern-most port city of Vladivostok on the Zolotoy Rog Bay by the Sea of Japan, not far from Russia's borders with China and North Korea.

The project has been delayed. The launch had originally been planned for December 2015.

The construction project has been mired in corruption scandals, with contractors indicted for failing to pay workers. The former head of the lead construction company has been accused of embezzling millions of rubles from state contracts.

jbh/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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