April 27, 2016 / 1:53 PM / 3 years ago

Russia's Putin orders space programme shake-up after launch delayed

A Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket carrying Lomonosov, Aist-2D and SamSat-218 satellites stands on the launch pad at the new Vostochny cosmodrome outside the city of Uglegorsk, about 200 km from the city of Blagoveshchensk in the far eastern Amur region on April 27, 2016. REUTERS/ Kirill Kudryavstev/Pool

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin told his space officials to raise their game on Wednesday after he flew thousands of kilometres to watch the inaugural launch of a rocket from a new spaceport, only for it to be called off.

With moments to go before the launch of an unmanned Soyuz rocket, officials had to postpone early on Wednesday morning because a fault was uncovered with the rocket. They rescheduled for 24 hours later, but there was uncertainty about whether the second attempt would go ahead.

The episode was the latest in a series of problems to beset the Vostochny cosmodrome. A prestige project for Putin, it is intended to phase out Russia’s reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome, in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan, for launching its rockets into space.

Several people involved in building the spaceport are under criminal investigation for embezzlement, workers went on strike over pay arrears, there were cost overruns, and the project missed its scheduled completion date last year.

“Without any doubt we will have to draw conclusions,” a stern-looking Putin told a meeting of space industry officials at the cosmodrome, in Russia’s remote Amur region near the border with China.

“Yes, of course, despite the shortcomings Russia is a leader in the number of launches. That is good,” he said in footage broadcast on state television.

“But the fact is there is a large number of hitches. That is bad. There should be an appropriate reaction.”

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov

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