January 11, 2012
Russia Hints US May Be Behind Recent Satellite Failures
A series of Russian satellite failures over the past year may be due to sabotage by foreign nations, Russia´s space chief said on Tuesday in remarks that seemed to be directed at the United States.
"I wouldn't like to accuse anyone, but today there exists powerful means to influence spacecraft, and their use can't be excluded," said Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin in an interview with Izvestia daily.
Popovkin said it was not clear why several launches went amiss at precisely the instant the spacecraft were moving through areas invisible to Russian radar.
"It is unclear why our setbacks often occur when the vessels are travelling through what for Russia is the 'dark' side of the Earth -- in areas where we do not see the craft and do not receive its telemetry readings," he said.
One of highest-profile failures took place last November, when Russia's Mars probe, named the Phobos-Grunt, became stuck in a low Earth orbit. The 13.5-ton probe's shattered fragments are expected to crash back to Earth on Sunday.
Popovkin said there is "no clarity" over why the spacecraft´s booster rocket failed to fire as scheduled.
However, he acknowledged that the mission was perilous because it involved an underfunded project whose original designs date back to the Soviet era.
"If we did not manage to launch it in the window open in 2011 for a Mars mission, we would have had to simply throw it away, writing off a loss of five billion rubles ($160 million)," he said.
Popovkin assumed his role as Russia's space agency chief in April, after its previous head was fired following a humiliating loss of three navigation satellites during launch.
But the problems accelerated under Popovkin´s watch, as Russia lost several more satellites while its Progress cargo ship had its first-ever failure on a mission to the International Space Station.
The setback of the Mars mission was followed last month by the loss of the Meridian communications satellite, whose fragments crashed into a house in Siberia.
There were no reported injuries, but a 20-inch fragment created a hole in the roof of the house, which was ironically located on Cosmonaut Street.
Image Caption: A Zenit rocket with Phobos-Grunt is being erected onto the launch pad on November 6.
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