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MEDVEDEV SACKS SPACE OFFICIALS OVER FAILED LAUNCH

By NBF News
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RUSSIA'S President Dmitry Medvedev has fired two space officials over a failed rocket launch that resulted in the loss of three satellites.

The Kremlin said that the deputy head of the Russian space agency, Viktor Remishevsky, and the deputy chief of the state-controlled RKK Energiya rocket manufacturer, Vyacheslav Filin, have lost their jobs over the December 5 launch when the Proton-M booster rocket failed to put three GLONASS-M satellites into a designated orbit. The space agency chief, Anatoly Perminov, received a reprimand.

An investigation has revealed that the failure was caused by a calculations error that resulted in excessive fuel being pumped into the carrier's upper stage.

Russia has struggled to place a sufficient number of GLONASS sattelites in orbit to compete with the U.S. GPS navigation system.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has harshly reprimanded officials over a logjam at Moscow airports and banned all Cabinet ministers from taking leave for the New Year holiday, saying they need to be available in the event of further problems.

Putin told a Cabinet meeting yesterday that those in charge of operations at Moscow airport should 'stop whining and start working.'

Icy rains over the weekend covered runways and planes with a thick layer of ice and caused a blackout at the capital's largest airport, Domodedovo, which halted all flights for a day. Domodedovo resumed operations Monday, but a backlog of delayed flights left thousands stranded.

The second-biggest airport, Sheremetyevo, also had dozens of flights canceled or delayed.

Putin said that top officials shouldn't take their New Year vacation until further notice.

Meanwhile, an aging Russian military cargo plane has crashed south of Moscow, killing all 12 people aboard.

The federal Investigative Committee said the An-22 plane was on a flight on Tuesday from the southwestern region of Voronezh region when it crashed in the Tula region, about 120 miles (190 kilometres) south of Moscow.

It said that along with the crew piloting the Antonov, the giant four-engined turboprop aircraft was also was carrying another crew to the Migalovo military air base in the Tver region. The cause of the crash was not immediately determined.

The An-22, which was designed in the 1960s, has a payload of 60 metric tons and is capable of airlifting about 300 troops. Only a handful are still in service with the Russian air force. The plane that went down Tuesday was built in 1974.

The air force said Wednesday it has grounded the remanining An-22s and also its fleet of Tu-95 strategic bombers, which have the same type of engine, pending a probe into the crash.