Rocket launches under the Sea Launch project could resume as early as in 2007 following the explosion of a rocket in January that damaged a launch platform, a deputy head of the Russian Space Agency said Wednesday, according to RIA Novosti.

A Sea Launch Zenit-3SL rocket carrying a commercial communications satellite exploded shortly after lift-off from an oceangoing platform in the Pacific on January 31.

"I believe that launches under the Sea Launch program will resume this year," Viktor Remishevsky said. "And the [Sea Launch] company plans to make it happen."

He said an investigation team has yet to establish the cause of the explosion, but it is more important to assess the damage to the launch platform.

"According to Sea Launch reports, the Odyssey platform has suffered only minor damage," the Russian space official said, adding that if the structural integrity of the platform has not been affected, it could be repaired at its port of call.

"This should not take a long time," Remishevsky said.

Established in 1995, the Sea Launch consortium is owned by Boeing, Kvaerner ASA of Oslo, Norway, and SDO Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, and RSC-Energia of Moscow.

The company launches its vehicles from the equator, which allows rockets to carry heavier payloads than they could from other locations due to the physics of the Earth`s rotation.

Remishevsky also said that the first launch of a Dnepr carrier rocket from a space center in Kazakhstan after last year`s crash is scheduled for March 2007.

A Dnepr rocket carrying a large payload of satellites crashed July 26, 2006 shortly after liftoff from the Baikonur space center, which Russia rents from the Central Asian country, due to a first stage engine shutdown.

"We are resuming Dnepr launches at the end of March," the official said, adding that Kazakhstan will receive $1 million in compensation for environmental damage caused by the crash.

The amount will be paid by Cosmotras, a Russian enterprise that organized the launch, while the rest will be put up by insurances companies.

"The [Russian] state will not pay a cent [for compensation]," Remishevsky said.

He also said that the next series of Dnepr launches will put into orbit a group of Egyptian satellites and several European satellites.

Commenting on the delay in the construction of a Russian launch pad at the Kourou space center in French Guiana, the Russian space official said workers have been battling with solid rock formations at the construction site and have experienced other technical difficulties.

"This is why the original date for the first Soyuz-ST carrier rocket launch from the space center in Guiana could be postponed for three months, until December 2008," he said.

The 344-million-euro Kourou launch site, located near the equator, will make it possible for Russia`s updated Soyuz-ST to orbit heavier cargoes than from the Plesetsk Space Center in northern Russia or the Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan.

The project, which is based on a November 2003 agreement between the Russian and French governments, will also allow Russia to substantially expand its commercial use of Soyuz booster rockets on the international market with up to 50 launches by 2010, each costing customers $50 million.