A Russian rocket crashed early Friday while attempting to launch an advanced communications satellite into orbit, Russian news outlets reported.
The unmanned Russian Proton-M rocket went down nine minutes after blasting off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday local time (5:42 p.m. ET Thursday), Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported. The rocket was carrying the Express-AM4R satellite, a spacecraft designed to provide affordable Internet access to people living in remote parts of Russia.
Russia Today and the RIA Novosti news service also reported the launch failure.
"Contact with the carrier rocket was lost in the 540th second after liftoff," Itar-Tass quoted an official with the Russian space agency as saying. "It is known that the nose cone did not separate from the rocket."
Russia Today said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage on the ground resulting from the crash. Future launches of Proton-type vehicles from Baikonur are likely to be grounded until investigators determine the cause of the crash.
This would mark the sixth major failure in the past three and a half years for the Proton, a family of launchers that has been in use since the mid-1960s. Most recently, a Proton-M rocket failed shortly after liftoff last July while carrying three satellites for Russia's Glonass navigation system.
The Proton-M is a 174-foot-tall (53-meter-tall) heavy lifter with three main stages. Many of the rocket's launches also feature a fourth stage, known as the Breeze-M. The Express-AM4R satellite was billed as Russia's most advanced telecommunications satellite.