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Russia opens negligence case over loss of Glonass satellites

RIA Novosti

16:14 23/05/2011

MOSCOW, May 23 (RIA Novosti) - Russian prosecutors have opened a criminal case on charges of negligence that led to the loss of three Glonass satellites last year, the Prosecutor General's Office said on Monday.

The satellites, meant to conclude the formation of Russia's Glonass navigation system, were lost when a Proton-M carrier rocket veered off course and crashed in the Pacific Ocean in December.

"Criminal proceedings have been launched against space officials who were responsible for the loss of the satellites," the prosecutors said.

Several senior space officials have already been reprimanded for not enforcing all the necessary pre-launch safety procedures and failing to spot a mistake in fuel calculations that led to the loss of the satellites and cost the state 4.3 billion rubles ($152.2 million).

A preliminary investigation conducted on orders of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev established facts of offences punished by the Criminal Code, in which Roscosmos and Russia's Energia space corporation officials were implicated.

"A calculation error was made and remained undetected due to organizational flaws in the work to develop and negotiate the technical documentation within the Energia space corporation, and also due to insufficient control on the part of the personnel responsible for the launch," spokesman for the Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin said.

Energia manufactures the DM-03 boosters for Proton-M carrier rockets. The boosters were mothballed after the accident indefinitely although their performance was deemed satisfactory by investigators.

"The sad thing about this situation is that we are searching for scapegoats rather than building a reliable system. Spacecraft design should not allow human error to cause accidents," Vitaly Lopota, head of Energia space corporation, commented on prosecutors' decision on Monday.

Lopota said his company had developed a draft plan outlining improved safety procedures during the preparation for rocket launches, which should be implemented by August.

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