Tue, Dec 07, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Russian ‘GPS’ satellites crash after failed launch

WRONG DIRECTION:Experts are trying to work out what went wrong with the last of 24 satellites at the heart of Russia’s Global Navigation System

Reuters, MOSCOW

Three Russian satellites crashed into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday after a failed launch, in a setback to a Kremlin project designed as a rival to the widely used US GPS navigation technology.

Russian news agencies said the satellites veered off course and crashed near Hawaii after blasting off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Khrunichev Space Center said the satellites had failed to enter the right orbit after the launch went wrong 10 minutes after take-off.

In a separate statement, space agency Roscosmos said that, “according to the results of our telemetric analysis, it has been determined that the group of satellites went off orbit.”

Both agencies said specialists were trying to work out what went wrong. The satellites were the last of a batch of 24 at the heart of Russia’s Global Navigation System (GLONASS).

The launch failure could delay what Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called “satellite navigation sovereignty,” and Russia’s attempt to stimulate its economy by having domestic firms mass produce GLONASS consumer devices.

The state has spent US$2 billion in the last 10 years on the project, being developed by oil-to-telecoms holding company Sistema.

Roscosmos said on Sunday before the launch failure that GLONASS would become operational in six weeks.

The government has proposed a series of protectionist, anti-GPS measures to encourage GLONASS’ adoption. In October, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia was looking to introduce duties of around 25 percent by 2012 on the import of mobile phones without the GLONASS navigation system.

However, the general director of M2M Electronics, a subcontractor specializing in microelectronics for the GLONASS program, said the failure to launch the satellites was “no great tragedy.”

Evgeny Belyanko told Russian state-owned news channel Rossiya 24 that existing satellites already covered all of Russia, had good coverage up to polar latitudes, and “perhaps not quite as good” coverage of the equatorial region.

“Therefore the absence of these three satellites ... will not have any serious consequences,” he said.

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