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GLONASS launch failure photo.jpg
A Proton-M rocket carrying three GLONASS satellites exploded shortly after launch on July 2. RIA Novosti image

Premature Launch May Have Doomed GLONASS Satellites

July 6, 2013

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A special commission conducting a criminal investigation into the failed attempt on Tuesday (July 2, 2013) to place three GLONASS satellites into orbit is looking at premature launch as a likely cause of the Proton-M rocket crash.

Citing an unnamed space industry source, the official RIA Novosti news agency said that the commission, headed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, is also considering other possible scenarios surrounding the botched launch at the Baikonur space facility in Kazahkstan.

The Proton-M exploded shortly after launch early on Tuesday, the second such loss of a trio of GLONASS-M spacecraft at Baikonur in the last three years. According to the Khrunichev Research and Production Space Center, a federal state unitary enterprise that built the Proton launcher, an emergency shutdown occurred 17 seconds into the mission followed by a crash onto cosmodrome property about 2.5 kilometers away.

According to RIANovosti, although the Roscosmos had partially insured the launches, the two GLONASS failures comprised 8.5 billion rubles (US$240 million) in uncovered losses.

The Kazakh government has also convened a commission, headed by the nation's environment minister, to looking possible contamination caused by more than 500 tons of toxic heptyl, amyl, and kerosene fuels spilled in the crash.

In the wake of the accident, Russia suspended all scheduled Proton launches from Baikonur for an indefinite period of time.

The launch failure is the latest setback for the GLONASS program, which has faced a series of problems in recent years.

A December 5, 2010, failure led to the dismissal of two high-ranking space officials and the subsequent resignation of the head of the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos).

Last month, Kommersant daily reported that former executives of M2M Telematics, a subsidiary of the Russian Systema conglomerate, being investigated for alleged embezzlement of nearly 400 million rubles ($12.3 million) from the GLONASS program.

In November 2012, Rogozin dismissed Yuri Urlichich from his post as general designer of the GLONASS satellite navigation system. Urlichich later resigned as director general of JSC Russian Space Systems in the course of an Interior Ministry investigation of a suspected $17-million–dollar embezzlement scheme in which JSC Russian Space Systems allegedly siphoned off GLONASS R&D funds through fake orders with phony companies.

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