Russian satellites crash into Pacific: space official
Three Russian navigation satellites crashed into the Pacific off the US state of Hawaii Sunday after the rocket carrying them failed to reach orbit, a Russian space official quoted by the Ria-Novosti agency said.
The official said the crash, which occurred 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) off Honolulu, caused neither casualties nor damage.
"Following a failure of the Proton rocket and the rocket booster, three Glonass-M satellites crashed into an area of the Pacific Ocean well off sea lanes about 1,500 kilometers northwest of Honolulu," the source added.
The rocket carrying the Glonass navigation satellites, Russia's answer to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), had blasted off as planned from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1.25 pm (1025 GMT), Interfax reported.
However, a second-stage booster rocket failed to carry its payload into orbit and plummetted into the Pacific.
"The ballistics experts have checked everything: the upper-stage rocket with the satellites is not on the main, intermediate nor emergency orbit," a source told the RIA Novosti news agency.
The three Glonass-M satellites, weighing 1.4 tonnes, were supposed to complete a constellation of satellites already put in place by Russia.
The system, developed by the Russian military in the 1980s, is being vaunted as Russia's answer to the GPS and to Europe's fledgling Galileo system.
And Sunday's failure marks a major setback for the Russians, experts say. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has underscored the strategic significance of developing the Glonass systenm to ensure Russia's technological independence.
Last April, Putin said Moscow would this launch seven new Glonass satellites which would ensure coverage of the entire planet, briging to 27 or 28 the number of operational satellites.
Russia's defence ministry however said Sunday's loss would not affect the roll-out of the new positioning system.
"There are currently 26 satellites in the Glonass constellation, including two emergency satellites. This allows complete coverage of Russian Federation territory," the ministry said in a statement.
"The Russian space industry's capacity enables us to react rapidly to what's happened," it said, adding that the system would be fully in place next year.
© 2010 AFP