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Apr 28, 8:52 AM EDT

Russia launches 1st rocket from new space facility


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MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia on Thursday successfully launched the first rocket from its new space facility after a last-minute delay the day before.

The Soyuz 2.1a booster blasted off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East in the early hours. The Roscosmos space agency said in a statement that the three satellites the rocket was carrying orbited several hours later.

The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was called off 1Ĺ minutes before the planned liftoff. President Vladimir Putin flew to Vostochny for the launch and had to extend his stay in order to see the rocket go.

Putin, who watched from about a mile (1.6 kms) away, congratulated the facility's staff.

"This is just the first stage of enormous work, and everything you were supposed to do you did brilliantly," he said in televised comments.

The launch pad so far is equipped only for launching rockets carrying small cargo like satellites. More facilities have to be built to accommodate heavy-lift launch vehicles and service manned launches.

Roscosmos officials have said the space agency was working to pinpoint what went wrong on Wednesday.

The construction of the vast space complex some 5,500 kilometers (3,400 miles) east of Moscow has been troubled by delays - the first launch had been expected about four months ago - and dogged by corruption scandals. Workers who had complained of going unpaid for months went on strike last spring. The directors of three project subcontractors were arrested on corruption charges.

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