A Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass-M satellites may have crashed on Tuesday because it lifted off prematurely, i.e. before the first stage engines reached the necessary power, a rocket industry source close to the commission investigating the incident told Interfax-AVN.

"The analysis of the telemetry data has shown that the rocket's liftoff occurred nearly half a second ahead of time. Hence, the engines had not reached the necessary thrust capacity by this time," the source said.

In this situation, "the automated emergency system performed nominally: upon receiving information indicating that the engines did not reach the full thrust capacity, it started an emergency procedure to direct the rocket away from the launch pad," he said.

The Russian Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case over the crash of the Proton-M rocket, the Baikonur prosecutor's office said in a statement posted on its website.

"The investigative department of the Russian Investigative Committee at the Baikonur complex has opened a criminal case on this incident over evidence of a crime, put forward in the Russian Criminal Code Article 216 Part 1. The Baikonur prosecutor's office is overseeing the investigation," the statement said.

The Baikonur prosecutor's office is checking whether the law regulating preparations for launches and launches of rocket and space equipment was followed, at the order of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, the statement said.

The Proton-M rocket with three GLONASS satellites was launched at the Baikonur cosmodrome on July 2. The rocket exploded and crashed near the launch site within minutes.

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