A Russian mission to send an expensive weather satellite into space ended in spectacular failure last month, with the rocket crashing into Earth just hours after launch. On Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters the crash was the result of a simple human error. That is, programmers had plugged in the wrong coordinates.
“The rocket was really programmed as if it was taking off from Baikonur,” Rogozin told the Rossiya 24 state television channel, reports Reuters, even though the rocket launch was taking place in Vostochny. “They didn’t get the coordinates right."
If true, it's a very embarrassing blunder on the part of Roscosmos, the governmental organization in charge of Russia’s space program and this particular launch.
But to add to the confusion, the agency released their own statement shortly after Rogozin's televised interview, strongly denying his claims.
Speaking to Russian state-operated news agency RIA Novosti, a spokesperson from Roscosmos explained the "reason for the accident is a combination of several factors at the Vostocny Cosmodrome... [that are] impossible to detect by any existing mathematical models.”
Essentially, they say the error is not quite as basic as Rogozin makes out.
The flight mission had been specially designed for the newly built Vostochny Cosmodrome (and not for Baikonur), the spokesperson is reported to have added.
The launch in question took place on November 28 from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Oblast, a federal subject of Russia in the Russian Far East. While the event seemed to go without a hitch, it was revealed just a few hours later that something had gone wrong and Roscosmos had not been able to establish a connection during the first planned communication session.
Later, video footage emerged showing what is thought to be the rocket (a Soyuz-2.1) burning up over Montreal, Canada, before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean.
The rocket was carrying a 2,750-kilogram (6,062-pound) weather satellite called a Meteor-M, as well as 18 smaller satellites belonging to research and commercial companies in a number of countries, including Russia, the US, Norway, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Canada.
But it is the loss of Meteor-M – one of a series of weather satellites developed to monitor the Earth's climate from a polar orbit – that is particularly disastrous for Russia. It cost the country 2.6 billion roubles, which is roughly equivalent to $45 million or £33 million.