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India's space rocket disintegrates after blast-off
BANGALORE, India, July 10 (AFP) Jul 10, 2006
A rocket carrying India's heaviest satellite disintegrated in a ball of smoke and flame seconds after lift-off Monday, dealing a crippling blow to the country's ambitious space programme.

The 49-metre (161-foot) rocket was launched at 1205 GMT from an island off the coast of the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, but veered off course and disintegrated about 30 seconds later, live television pictures showed.

"A mishap happened in the first stage of the separation and it will be some time before we know what went wrong," Madhavan Nair, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) mission chief, told reporters at the launch site.

"We have to analyse the sequence of events to see what happened."

The rocket carried a 2,168-kilogram (2.4 ton) satellite to be placed in stationary space orbit at 36,000 kilometres (22,320 miles), designed for a mission life of 10 years and meant to boost television services.

It was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in the Bay of Bengal.

A similar version of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle successfully placed a satellite in orbit in 2004.

On Sunday, the maiden test of India's Agni-III missile, which defence sources say has a range of 4,000 kilometres (2,480 miles), developed problems after a successful take-off Sunday from a site off India's east coast.

"While it would be too early to hazard a guess as to what went wrong, it would seem that a design defect prevented the second stage from separating," the official said of the Agni, or Fire, missile.

The Agni-III has two solid-fuelled stages and has an overall diameter of 1.8 metres (six feet).

Scientists of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said more trials of the Agni-III missile would be conducted in the coming months.

Monday's ill-fated launch of the three-stage rocket, which includes Russian-made cryogenic control systems with locally-built equipment, was an attempt to increase its capacity beyond four tons.

K.R. Sridhara Murthi, executive director of Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Department of Space, said Sunday his outfit wanted "one or more successful launch of the rocket" before offering launch services.

"Only then we can go in for more vigorous marketing," Murthi told AFP of India's ambition to capture part of the global launch market.

India has plans to invest 542 million dollars to handle up to four launch services for satellites a year.

India has nine other communication satellites with a total of 175 transponders in operation, making it the largest domestic communication satellite system in the Asia-Pacific and the world's biggest civilian cluster of remote-sensing satellites.

The country says its space program is aimed at developing practical technology. It plans to send a probe to the moon in two or three years.

India first tried to launch a satellite-capable rocket on March 24, 1987. The attempt failed.

A second attempt ended with the payload falling into the Bay of Bengal on July 13, 1988, when the vehicle became unstable and broke up soon after release of the booster rockets.

A launch on May 20, 1992 placed a satellite in orbit, but lower than planned, resulting in reduced performance.

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