updated 8/1/2006 9:11:52 PM ET 2006-08-02T01:11:52

The launch of Russian Dnepr rockets from Kazakhstan has been suspended indefinitely following the crash of a rocket last week, a Kazakh official said Tuesday.

The rocket, carrying 18 satellites, crashed last Thursday shortly after liftoff in an uninhabited area about 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of Baikonur, Russia's main space launch facility.

No injuries or damage were reported, but there are fears that the crash seriously polluted the area with the highly poisonous fuel heptyl.

Kazakh emergency officials said the concentration of various toxic and other harmful substances around the location exceeded permissible levels by at least 1,000 times. Russia is expected to compensate Kazakhstan for any environmental damage.

The Soviet-era Baikonur cosmodrome will be barred from launching Dnepr rockets until the cause of the crash is established, said Azamat Abdymomunov, who heads a government commission probing the accident.

Preliminary reports said a problem occurred when the rocket's third stage detached. Kazakh officials said the engine shut off 73 seconds into the flight.

Russia's space program has recently suffered several embarrassing failures, jeopardizing hopes of earning more revenue from commercial launches of foreign satellites.

The next scheduled satellite launch from Baikonur is Saturday using a Proton rocket. The Proton also uses heptyl, but was not affected by the Dnepr suspension.

A Dnepr rocket successfully lofted Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis 1 inflatable module into orbit last month, and Bigelow is planning a follow-on Genesis 2 launch by the end of the year. However, the Genesis launches take place from a military base in Russia, and thus do not fall under the Kazakh ban.

This report was supplemented by information from MSNBC.com.

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