Russian space program brought down by embezzlement

The Accounts Chamber says it has identified a possible reason for the spate of costly failures of Russia’s space program. It comes following an audit of the books at the state space agency, Roscosmos.

­The Accounts Chamber has been looking into a list of major financial irregularities and misuses of budgetary funds. The chairman of the chamber, Sergey Stepashin, says investigation results are pointing at a direct connection between the embezzlements and recent launch failures. Law enforcement agencies will now be joining the investigation.

The inquiries at Roscosmos are a result of a number of mishaps over the last ten months. In December 2010 a Photon-M rocket failed to launch on its mission to place three GLONASS navigation satellites into orbit. The GPS satellites went straight into the Pacific Ocean, making a $1.52 million hole in the Russian budget.

In February this year a military satellite also failed to reach orbit. These failures led to the eventual resignation of Roscosmos chief Anatoly Perminov, who was replaced by Vladimir Popovik, first deputy to the defense minister at that time.

But the shake-up at Roscosmos did not have the desired effect. In mid-August, another expensive satellite disappeared from Russian radar immediately after its launch. Days after this incident, a Progress space carrier broke up into pieces over the Altai Mountains a mere five minutes into its flight. The space carrier was loaded with more than 2.6 tons of oxygen, fuel, water and food to be delivered to the International Space Station.

Roscosmos had to reschedule all its coming launches and called a special commission of experts to examine all the aircraft planned for space missions.

The inquiry into the agency’s affairs has been going on since 2010’s incidents with officials within Roscosmos itself admitting more control should be taken over its finances to prevent further launch failures.

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