Russia Launches First Rocket From New Spaceport to Vladimir Putin's Relief

Vladimir Putin had accused Russian's space industry of “slovenliness."

The rocket’s automated control system automatically interrupted the launch, the head of Russia’s space corporation, Roscosmos, told the TASS news agency, citing a fault in the craft’s cabling. A whirl of justifications and fretting about the bug followed, including speculation that Putin was furious after he publicly reprimanded the head of Russia’s space program and criticized the country’s space industry for “slovenliness.”

Today, however, Putin, who stayed on an extra day at the site, congratulated workers on the successful launch, saying it was something to be proud of.

"The main thing is that this launch pad is now working,” Putin told the spaceport workers, TASS reported. “In principle, we could have held the launch yesterday, but the equipment overdid its job and stopped the launch. This is a normal thing."

Although Russia’s lease of Baikonur runs until 2050, Moscow has determined it needs a launch-site on its own territory.

The new spaceport is a huge project, planned to stretch 430 square miles and eventually to include housing for up to 30,000 people. The costs are similarly large, totaling around $2.7 billion. But since construction began in 2012, the site has been plagued by corruption scandals and delays. Putin last year dispatched a close apparatchik to get construction back on track.

But the scrubbed launch on Wednesday was an uneasy reminder for Russia’s space industry of continuing troubles: Multiple Russian cargo rockets have exploded on takeoff in recent years, leading to criticism the sector is in crisis. Following its Soviet heyday, Russia’s space program has suffered from resource cuts and a brain drain.

But growing tensions with Russia, following the Ukraine crisis and aggressive rhetoric from Moscow, have led U.S. officials to begin searching for alternative routes for getting U.S. astronauts into space.