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Russian Space Boss Floats Sabotage Charge

President Vladimir Putin (right) with General Vladimir Popovkin at the Voronezh Radar Station in a 2007 file photo

President Vladimir Putin (right) with General Vladimir Popovkin at the Voronezh Radar Station in a 2007 file photo

The recently installed head of Russia's space agency has suggested foreign saboteurs could be behind some of the launch failures that Russia has experienced of late, although he stopped short of explicitly accusing anyone.

Roscosmos director Vladimir Popovkin's comments to state-backed daily "Izvestiya" echo a recent allegation by a retired Russian general who said a U.S. radar in Alaska might have emitted an electromagnetic burst to disable a mission to probe Mars' moon Phobos in November.

"It's not clear why our setbacks often occur when the vessels are traveling through what for Russia is the 'dark' side of the Earth -- in areas where we don't see the craft and don't receive its telemetry readings," Popovkin reportedly told "Izvestiya." "I don't want to blame anyone, but today there are some very powerful countermeasures that can be used against spacecraft whose use we can't exclude."

Such accusations are likely to reverberate, since the U.S. manned space program has been heavily reliant on Russian cooperation since Washington elected to retire its space shuttle program last year.

Popovkin was addressing criticism of the Russian space program in light of the Fobos-Grunt failure after launch in November. Roscosmos officials predict that vessel will fall to Earth around January 15.

In late November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hinted at the "need to carry out a detailed review" of the space program's problems "and punish those guilty."

Russia's space efforts suffered one of their worst blows in years with the crash shortly after takeoff in August of an unmanned Progress cargo craft that was supposed to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

After a delay over safety concerns, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in November successfully transported two Russians and an American to the space station.

Popovkin took control of Russia's space agency in April after the loss of three navigation satellites during launch prompted the dismissal of his predecessor.

Popovkin said in the "Izvestiya" interview that Russia planned to launch three communications satellites in 2013 to help plug the communications gap for its spacecraft highlighted by the recent incidents.

AP quoted a retired Russian general who used to command the country's early-warning system, Nikolay Rodyonov, as saying in November that a major electromagnetic impulse generated by a U.S. radar facility in Alaska might have affected the Fobos-Grunt's control system.

compiled from agency reports

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