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ROCKET SCIENCE
Programming error caused Russian satellite failure: report

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Dec 6, 2010
A programming error may have caused a rocket carrying three Russian navigation satellites to fail to reach orbit, a Russian space agency source told the RIA Novosti news agency on Monday.

"A number of specialists think that mistakes in the programming of the onboard computer system of the Proton rocket led to the engines sending the rocket too high and onto a faulty trajectory," the source said.

The rocket carrying satellites for the Russian government navigation system Glonass, failed to reach the correct orbit Sunday after blasting off from Baikonur cosmodrome, the Russian space agency said.

The satellites crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, the spacecraft corporation RKK Energiya said in a statement, confirming earlier reports.

"The Proton launch rocket functioned abnormally, sending the three Glonass satellites and the upper-stage booster rocket on the wrong trajectory and they fell into the Pacific Ocean 1,500 kilometers northwest of Honolulu," the statement said.

Once separated from the Proton launch rocket, the upper-stage booster rocket with the three satellites aboard should have put them in orbit about 20 kilometres (12 miles) above the earth.

A space agency source told RIA Novosti that the upper-stage rocket and the satellites immediately disappeared from radio coverage, making it impossible to correct the trajectory.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the Prosecutor General Yury Chaika to investigate the loss of the satellites and name the people responsible, the Kremlin said in a statement on its website late Sunday.

The terse statement said the president had also demanded an audit of spending on the entire Glonass programme.

The failure was an embarrassing setback for Russia's attempt to put a satellite navigation system in place to rival the United States's GPS (Global Positioning System) and steal a march on Europe's fledgling Galileo system.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has underscored the strategic significance of developing the Glonass system to ensure Russia's technological independence.

In a publicity stunt, he even fitted his dog Connie with a collar with a Glonass transmitter.

Putin said in April that Russia planned to equip all new cars sold in Russia in 2012 with the new navigation system, developed by the Russian military in the 1980s.

He said Moscow planned to launch a total of seven new Glonass satellites which would ensure coverage of the entire planet, bringing to 27 or 28 the number of operational satellites.

It currently deploys 26 satellites, six of which are not in use.

Russia planned to spend 1.7 billion rubles (40 million dollars) on the project in 2011, after two billion rubles spent in 2010, Putin said.

earlier related report
Russian satellites crash into Pacific: space official
Moscow (AFP) Dec 5, 2010 - Three Russian navigation satellites crashed into the Pacific off the US state of Hawaii Sunday after the rocket carrying them failed to reach orbit, officials from the Russian space agency said.

The capsule carrying the three Glonass satellites plummeted into the sea 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) off Honolulu, one official told Russia's RIA-Novosty news agency, adding that there had been no casualties.

The failure is a setback for Russia's attempt to put a satellite navigation system in place to rival the United States's GPS (Global Positioning System) and steal a march on Europe's fledgling Galileo system.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has underscored the strategic significance of developing the Glonass system to ensure Russia's technological independence.

"According to preliminary data, the Proton rocket that took off from Baikonur at 1:25 pm (1025 GMT) took a wrong trajectory," said a Russian space agency source cited by Interfax.

"Consequently, the booster rocket could not put the satellites in the intended orbit and it fell back with them into the atmosphere," the source added.

Once separated from the Proton rocket, a second-stage booster rocket with the three satellites aboard should have put them in orbit about 20 kilometres (12 miles) above the earth.

"The ballistics experts have checked everything: the upper-stage rocket with the satellites is not on the main, intermediate nor emergency orbit," a source told RIA Novosti.

The three Glonass-M satellites, weighing 1.4 tonnes, were supposed to complete a constellation of satellites already put in place by Moscow.

Putin said in April that Russia planned to equip all new cars sold in Russia in 2012 with the new navigation system, developed by the Russian military in the 1980s.

He said Moscow planned to launch a total of seven new Glonass satellites which would ensure coverage of the entire planet, bringing to 27 or 28 the number of operational satellites.

Russia would spend 1.7 billion rubles (40 million dollars) in 2011, after two billion rubles spent in 2010, Putin said.

Rokosmos, the Russian space agency, said in 2008 that Venezuela and Cuba were interested in adopting the new system.

Russia's defence ministry confirmed the loss, but insisted Sunday's accident would not affect the roll-out of the new positioning system.

"There are currently 26 satellites in the Glonass constellation, including two emergency satellites. This allows complete coverage of Russian Federation territory," the ministry said in a statement.

"The Russian space industry's capacity enables us to react rapidly to what's happened," it said, adding that the system would be fully in place next year in any case.



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