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Russian Military Rocket Crashes After Launch

Russian spaceofficials have called off the search for an unmanned rocket and its militarysatellite payload that crashed just after liftoff from Plesetsk CosmodromeTuesday.

Recovery ofthe communication satellite's remains, which were strewn across Russia'sTyumen region of Siberia, will resume Wednesday, according to the Russian newsagency Interfax.

"Thesearch, involving an An-2 aircraft, lasted about five hours," a spokesman forRussia's Emergency Situations Ministry told Interfax, adding that search operationsconcluded as the plane ran out of fuel.

Molniyasatellites work in tandem with other spacecraft to provide uninterrupted videoand radio signals for military users. While newer Molniya satellites haveserved the Russian military, earlier versions were used by civilian consumersas well. Those spacecraft orbited Earth once every 12 hours in an orbit thatstretched from 24,854 miles (40,000 kilometers) at its peak above the NorthernHemisphere down to 292 miles (470 kilometers) above Southern Hemisphere.

Russianspace officials said the Tuesday's Molniya-M rocket launched properly, butexperienced a malfunction as it switched between stages.

"Theengines of the Molniya-M rocket carrier shut down when the carrier rocket wasputting the military-purpose satellite in orbit," said Russian Space ForcesCol. Alexei Kuznetsov told Interfax. "As a result, the satellite did not reachits designated orbit."

AnatolyPerminov, chief of the Russian Federal Space Agency, said investigators wereconsidering two potential causes for the crash.

"Either therewas an engine failure of the third stage, or the staging order was notfulfilled," Perminov told reporters during a press conference at theInterfax main office.

A criminalinvestigation has been opened, with military prosecutors to study the potentialviolation of flight rules, according to the Associated Press and Interfax.

So far,there have been no reports of injuries or major damage, and Russian SpaceForces officials touted the Molniya launch vehicle as among its mostenvironmentally-safe boosters because it relies on kerosene and liquid oxygen,Interfax reported.

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