Kazakhstan has suspended launches of the Russian Proton rocket at the Baikonur Space Center following a failed liftoff and loss of the payload, a Japanese communications satellite. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report.

The Russian Proton-M rocket exploded 139 seconds after a pre-dawn liftoff from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Space Center.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's special representative at Baikonur, Adilbek Bassekeyev, says a prior agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan stipulates the automatic suspension of Proton launches until all issues are cleared up.

Preliminary reports indicate an engine malfunction and steering problem in the rocket's second stage.

A spokesman for the Khrunichev Space Center, which produces the Proton launch vehicle, says an official investigation will look into the failure.

Rocket parts fell to the ground in an uninhabited area 40-50 kilometers from the town of Dzhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan.

The payload, a communications satellite owned by Japan's JSAT Corporation, was intended for re-transmission of television signals to Japan, the Asia-Pacific region and the Hawaiian Islands. The French news agency AFP quotes JSAT officials as saying the satellite was to have replaced one that is now in orbit.

Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer tells the VOA the device was insured, but will take years to replace. He says the Proton rocket is considered very reliable. But the analyst adds that the quality of Russian rockets has declined since the Soviet collapse.

Felgenhauer says this is very serious, because the Proton has liquid heptyl fuel, a cancer-causing substance, which could have fallen on populated areas, although that part of Kazakhstan is not very populated.

Felgenhauer adds the rocket explosion could hurt Russian profits in the satellite launch business, which is considered to be the most lucrative part of the space industry.