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Russian rocket explosion latest for troubled space program

By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com   |   July 2, 2013 at 1:18 PM   |   Comments

July 2 (UPI) -- The explosion of a Russian Proton-M rocket booster, destroying $200-million in navigation satellites, is the latest in a series of accidents that has some questioning the viability of the country's space program as it currently operates.

Alexander Lopatin, the deputy head of Roscosmos, will lead a commission to investigate Tuesday's crash, the agency announced, but it's clear the incident is part of system-wide troubles.

Tuesday's crash, in which the rocket fell off course about 10 seconds after launch, flew horizontally and then exploded midair, was similar to several another incidents, including one with the Proton-M in 2011.

So much has gone wrong for the program that the head of the Roscosmos space agency, Valdimir Popovkin, publicly wondered if the problems were a result of deliberate sabotage.

But in all likelihood, human error can be blamed. Roscosmos still largely relies on tried and tested older technology from the Soviet era, and the repeated issues seem to stem from quality control as the agency struggles with a too-small budget and staff.

Russia's problems were a source of major concern for the International Space Station, which was poised to rely heavily on Roscosmos after NASA shut down its shuttle program last year before private companies were ready to take up the task of transporting supplies and astronauts to the station.

Those concerns have been eased somewhat with now that SpaceX, the California-based company founded by Elon Musk, has seen several successful missions to the station.

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