October 9, 2005

Reports: Russia Suspends Rocket Launches

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia suspended launches of a rocket used in a failed mission to put a European satellite into orbit to map polar ice, news reports Sunday said.

The Rokot booster rocket will not be launched again pending the outcome of an investigation into Saturday's unsuccessful launch, state-run Rossiya television reported, citing the Russian space agency.

Space agency officials could not immediately be reached Sunday to confirm the report.

The rocket's second stage failed to separate following the launch and the Cryosat satellite fell into the Arctic Ocean, Russian and European officials said.

The second stage did not separate apparently because a missing command from the onboard flight control system caused the main engine to continue to operate after it should have cut off, burning all the fuel on board, the European Space Agency said in a statement on its Web site.

It said the rocket's top two stages and the satellite fell into the sea north of Greenland, near the North Pole.

The loss of the satellite is a blow to the European agency, which had hoped to conduct a three-year mapping project of polar sea ice and provide more reliable data to study the effects of global warming. It also hurt the Russians, who have been aggressively trying to move into the commercial satellite launch business.