Russian rocket crashes after launch in fiery cloud of toxic fumes that now threatens residents

Image: Orange smoke in Kazakhstan, resulting from today's rocket crash.

[AP Video Link] At the Baikonur Cosmodrome today, the most notable spaceflight accident in some time: a Russian Proton-M rocket crashed shortly after takeoff. The rocket was hauling three GLONASS navigation satellites for a navigation system that Russia is in the process of building. The resulting fiery, toxic orange smoke stretched into a cloud that hovered over the nearby city of Baikonur, where some 70,000 people live. Residents were told to shelter in place to avoid exposure.

Here's the official statement from KazCosmos, the National Space Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan. “According to the preliminary estimates from the Russian side, there was no destruction or casualties,” reads part of the statement.

Image: Orange smoke in Kazakhstan, resulting from today's rocket crash.

From RT's report:

Seventeen seconds after takeoff, the rocket swerved to one side, tried to correct itself, but instead veered in the opposite direction. It then flew horizontally and started to come apart with its engines in full thrust. Making a huge arch in the air, “the rocket plummeted back to the territory of the cosmodrome "Boykonur", about 2.5 kilometers from the launch site,” said spokesperson of Roskosmos, Anna Vedishcheva. The rocket exploded on impact close to another launch pad used for Proton commercial launches

From the New York Times' account:

By midday in Kazakhstan, however, photographs posted online showed an ominous, elongated and orange-hued horsetail cloud stretching over the city of Baikonur, which has a population of 70,000.

The city government posted fliers asking residents to take shelter in their homes.

“Because of the failed launch at the cosmodrome a cloud of unburned fuel is moving near Baikonur,” a photograph of a flier posted online said. “We recommend that you don’t leave home, shut your windows and doors tightly and don’t use air conditioning.”

Spaceflight Now reports that the rocket was 19-stories tall, weighed close to 1.5 million pounds at launch, and its first three stages were loaded with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants... the upper stage [were] filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen." The technical term for those toxic fumes is a BFRC, Spaceflight Now's Steven Young tells us.

A Russian Proton-M rocket. Image: Wikipedia.