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Lost Russian Satellite Sends First Signal

February 2, 2011

The Russian Defence Ministry launched a search Tuesday to look for a missing military satellite that was possibly put into the wrong orbit after its launch. However, sources in the Russian rocket-space industry told Itar-Tass on Wednesday morning that “the first signal was received from the satellite.”

The craft — a dual-vessel called Geo-IK-2 that can draw a 3D map of the Earth and locate precise positions of various targets — was confirmed as lost by Russia’s top space and military authority.

The incident marks another setback in Russia’s much-criticized space industry. Just last month President Dmitry Medvedev fired two top space officials for a similar issue.

The ministry set up an urgent task force with Russia’s space agency late Tuesday to hunt down the missing satellite, according to reports that pointed out the seriousness of the issue.

The satellite was also created to help the Russian military survey land. It was designed to spin in a circular orbit 600 miles above the surface of Earth. But reports surfaced that the craft was accidentally put into an elliptical orbit whose lowest point brought it to within 200 miles of Earth.

“We have still not been able to establish contact with the craft, and it looks like most likely, it will be declared lost,” a Russian space source told the Interfax-AVN news service.

Another source said: “The spacecraft will not be able to perform its intended functions at these orbit characteristics.”

The blame was focused on the satellite’s Briz-KM upper stage rocket. The launch was already delayed once because of technical malfunctions found back in December at the Plesetsk launch facility in Russia.

Tuesday’s problem came less than five weeks after President Medvedev reprimanded the space agency’s chief for a launch failure that caused Russia’s delay of deploying its own navigation system.

It was proven that Russia’s Proton-M rocket at that time was too heavy to reach orbit and had been forced to dump its three high-tech Glonass-M satellites near the Hawaiian Islands. Investigators said the accident was caused by a fuel miscalculation that made the craft too heavy to reach the required height.

The three satellites being put into orbit would have completed a program that was started by the Soviet Union in 1976.

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