Rocket crash caused by programming error

A Russian rocket carrying three satellites crashed yesterday after blasting off from the Baikonur launchpad.

RKK Energiya, which built the Proton launch rocket, has confirmed that the rocket malfunctioned, sending the three Glonass satellites and the upper-stage booster rocket off-course by about eight degrees. Radio contact was lost, and soon after, they fell to earth in the Pacific ocean about 1,000 miles northwest of Honolulu.

A source within the Russian space agency told the RIA Novosti news agency that the failure was probably caused by a programming error.

“A number of specialists think that mistakes in the programming of the onboard computer system of the Proton rocket led to the engines sending the rocket too high and onto a faulty trajectory,” said the source.

The three satellites was destined for use in the Russian government navigation system Glonass, orbiting about 12 miles above the earth. They would have helped extend coverage of the system to the entire planet, with 24 operational satellites and several more as back-up.

The country’s prosecutor general Yury Chaika is to investigate and name the people responsible, and there will also be a full audit of spending on the Glonass project.

The plan was to have included installing Glomass GPS units in all new cars sold in the country from next year, and project spending for next year was to have topped $40 million.