Roskosmos Chief Baffled by Recent Launch Failures; Hints at Foreign Interference

[Satellite TODAY Insider 01-11-12] In a Jan. 10 statement to press officials, Roskosmos Chief Vladimir Popovkin said that he had no clear explanation for Russia’s failed launch of the $163 million Phobos-Grunt Mars probe in November. The satellite was stuck in low-Earth orbit following the botched launch. Fragments of the spacecraft are expected to crash back down to Earth on Jan. 15.
   “There is no clarity as to why Phobos-Grunt’s 13.5-tonne probe’s booster rocket failed to fire on schedule,” said Popovkin. “It is unclear why our setbacks often occur when the vessels are traveling through areas where we do not see the craft and do not receive its telemetry readings.”
   Popovkin acknowledged the risks involved with the mission, as the Mars project was under-funded. “If we did not manage to launch it during the window we had open in 2011 for a Mars mission, we would have had to throw it away. That would mean writing off a loss of $160 million,” he said.
   Roskosmos was plagued by a string of launch failures in 2011. Popovkin was named the head of Roskosmos in April to replace former chief Anatoly Perminov, who was fired after the loss of three Glonass navigation satellites in a Proton-M carrier rocket failure in December 2010. Perminov, who served at Roskosmos since 2004, was one of three high-ranking Russian space officials to be fired for the incident.
   The agency’s launch troubles continued, however, as Russia lost several more satellites and its Progress cargo ship under Perminov’s direction. The Phobos-Grun failure was followed last month by the loss of the Meridian communications satellite, which crashed into central Siberia. Russian auditors have blamed human error for the two failed space launches.
   Popovkin hinted to Russian newspapers that outside interference might be to blame for the series of setbacks. “I don’t want to blame anyone, but today there are powerful means to affect the trajectory of spacecraft, and we can’t exclude that these have been deployed.”
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