Russia's credentials as a leader in space technology took a dent when the inaugural launch at its new £4bn spaceport in Siberia was cancelled less than two minutes before take-off while president Vladimir Putin stood watching.

The Vostochny Cosmodrome, 3,500 miles (5,600km) east of Moscow, is a prestige project for the Kremlin which hopes it can be the centre for manned flights to the Moon and Mars from 2018.

But with 90 seconds to spare, an automated control system aborted the take-off of the Soyuz rocket which was to carry three satellites, causing a failure that was to the visible dismay to Igor Komarov, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

Roscosmos spokesman Igor Burenkov told journalists there was no damage to the rocket or satellites and that an investigation was underway, saying: "Nothing terrible happened. Our cosmodrome is in a testing period."

But Putin, who will stay until Thursday 28 April for the scheduled relaunch, told reporters: "The fact is there is a large number of hitches. That is bad. There should be an appropriate reaction."

However a source quoted by RIA Novosti said the launch may be postponed indefinitely, telling the agency: "If in the near future a decision to drain the fuel tanks of the rocket will be taken, this may mean that the launch will be postponed for an indefinite time."

Construction began in 2010 on the Vostochny drome in the far eastern Siberian region of Amur to replace the Baikonur spacedrome in Kazakhstan which Russia leases. The new site, which will provide roads and railways and a new town for 25,000 workers and their families.

However it has been beset with allegations of embezzlement, construction delays and corruption.