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Russian military's support of GLONASS on ice after corruption scandal, technical failures - report

Published time: December 22, 2012 03:24
Edited time: December 22, 2012 07:24
RIA Novosti / Oleg Urusov

RIA Novosti / Oleg Urusov

The Russian Defense Ministry has reportedly refused to adopt GLONASS, the country’s rival to GPS, due to its technical shortcomings. One of the system’s 24 satellites has malfunctioned, and besides, GLONASS is still in its testing phase.

­The malfunctioning satellite will not be operational any time soon as it has already exhausted its power after 96 months in service, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. And due to a difference in orbit inclination, no existing reserve satellite can substitute it.

A backup satellite launched in December 2008 stopped working in September of this year, allegedly because of malfunctioning Taiwanese-made microchips. According to the report, Moscow was forced to order the microchips from Taiwan when the US, Japan and several other NATO countries refused to supply the GLONASS manufacturers with spare parts following Russia’s war with South Ossetia.

Though three GLONASS-M satellites are reportedly ready to be put into orbit, Russia’s 2013 budget has not allocated funds for additional launches. Formally, the navigation system is still in the development stage, which was planned to be completed by the end of 2012 with the Defense Ministry taking full control of the system. Due to systematic problems this has not happened, yet the federal program under which the project is funded has no provisions for any extension of the testing phase.

There are currently 31 GLONASS satellites in orbit, 23 of which are in operation. Others are either in reserve, or still being tested. If another satellite fails, it could delay the launch of the system by several more years.

Starting from January 1, 2013, all public transportation operators and the carriers of hazardous materials were ordered to equip their vehicles with GLONASS systems and report their locations to Rostransnadzor, Russia’s transport supervision agency. This requirement, however, is not legally binding unless the satellite system is formally put into operation.

GLONASS' development has been marred by corruption scandals in addition to its numerous technical failures. 

In December 2010, three GLONASS-M satellites crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The approximate cost of the equipment was estimated at $80 million.

In November 2012, inspectors from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, uncovered several significant violations in the use of budgetary funds allocated to GLONASS. The investigators said that 6.5 billion rubles (over $200 million) were embezzled from the budget. As a result of the scandal, Yury Urlichich was sacked from his post as GLONASS chief designer and then resigned as the head of the Russian Institute of Space Device Engineering.

The GLOSNASS case came amid a separate scandal in which Russian Defense Ministry head Anatoly Serdyukov was sacked for his involvement in large-scale corruption.

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