Russia cancels rocket launch for second day in a row

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Russia on Wednesday cancelled a high-profile rocket launch at the last minute for the second day running, in a fresh setback for the country’s space program.

Launch of the flagship Angara A5, a powerful spacecraft designed to carry heavy payloads into low Earth orbit, was cancelled two minutes before lift-off, the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said, saying he suspected a software failure.

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“The command has been issued: launch aborted,” the launch director had said on an official live broadcast of the event.

Roscosmos head Yury Borisov later told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency: “It was a failure in the engine start control system. Most likely, it is a software error.”

The mission had already been delayed by 24 hours after a planned launch on Tuesday was also called off at the last minute.

Borisov said Tuesday’s cancellation was due to a failure in a pressurizing system in an oxidiser tank.

He said a third attempt at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East would be made Thursday.

It is the latest high-profile setback for Russia’s troubled space program.

Last month Russia delayed the launch of a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), again at the last minute.

On that occasion, three astronauts -- from Russia, Belarus and the United States -- were strapped in and ready for take-off when a “voltage dip” triggered an automatic shutdown seconds before blast-off.

The launch went ahead two days later.

And last year Russia’s first mission to the moon in almost 50 years failed when a lander crashed into the lunar surface.

Russia’s development of the Angara A-5, a heavy booster rocket designed to ferry tons of equipment into space, has also been beset by delays.

It has had only three test launches over the last ten years, one of which was a partial failure.

Moscow plans to use its cargo capacities to deliver modules for a rival to the ISS that it hopes to construct in the coming years.

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