An unmanned Russian rocket carrying three satellites spun off course within seconds of its launch early Tuesday morning, ultimately crashing into the ground and exploding in a billowing fireball.
The Proton-M rocket wobbled shortly after taking off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, turning sideways and then splintering into pieces before hurtling back to Earth. The rocket was loaded with 600 tons of toxic propellant, raising fears that the explosion could send a poisonous plume toward nearby towns.
There were no reported casualties as a result of the accident.
The Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) did not immediately identify what went wrong.
"There was an accident during the Proton-M launch," a ROSCOSMOS spokesman told the Moscow Times. "The rocket fell and exploded on the territory of the launch site. An investigation commission headed by Roscosmos deputy head Alexander Lopatin has been set up."
It was the second failed launch of a Proton-M rocket in the past three years.