Russia yesterday successfully launched a satellite vital to the deployment of its own navigation system after the failure of an earlier attempt prompted the Kremlin to sack two top space officials.
The Federal Space Agency said in a statement that the high-tech Glonass-K satellite reached its intended orbit about four hours after blasting off on top a Soyuz-2 rocket from Russia’s northern Plesetsk launchpad.
“We have established and are maintaining steady telemetry communications with the space craft,” a spokesman for the Russian defense ministry’s space force told the Interfax news agency.
“The on-board systems of the Glonass-K satellite are functioning normally,” the official said.
The launch was watched closely by Russian space and military officials after the last attempt to put three Glonass satellites in orbit failed spectacularly on Dec. 5.
The three orbiters would have completed Russia’s own navigation system and enabled the military to finally target its missiles from space — a technology that has long been available to NATO countries.
However, an error prevented the Russian craft from reaching its set distance from Earth and the satellites ended up plummeting into Hawaii.
A furious Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired two top space officials after a probe placed the blame on a simple fuel miscalculation.
The three satellites would have completed a Glonass system whose research had been started by the Soviet Union in 1976 before being interrupted and then picked up again by the country’s president-turned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Putin has vowed to place Glonass readers on every car made in Russia by next year and hailed the system as an example of how the country can claw back its Soviet-era technological might.
Russia refuses to use the global positioning system developed in the US out of fears that its military’s access to the technology might be cut off in times of war.