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The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow
"Chronic underfunding has meant that military equipment has become painfully outdated"
 real 56k

Military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer
"There's going to be a growing sequence of such disasters in the Russian military"
 real 56k

Military analyst Alexander Pikayev
"They failed to switch of the control to the satellites quickly"
 real 56k

Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Russia blaze hits satellite network
Fire at Serpukhov ground relay station
The fire cut communications with four military satellites
Russia has extinguished a fire at a space command centre and regained control of four military satellites using a back-up command post, Russian television says.

The fire raged for up to 12 hours in a regional command post for the defence ministry's space programme.

The entire satellite control system is working normally, including ones with a military designation

Russian Space Forces Commander, Anatoly Perminov

Military chiefs insisted that the overall satellite control system was working normally.

The blaze is reported to have been triggered by a short-circuit and spread through communications networks on three floors of the building near the town of Serpukhov, 200km (120 miles) southwest of Moscow.

There are no reports of injuries.

Officials said the building, which is mostly underground, was practically burnt out.

The head of the armed forces' space division, Anatoly Perminov said all secret documents, computer programmes, weapons and equipment were rescued from the burning relay station.

The fire broke out at 0220 local time, engulfing several floors of the building, according to Interfax news agency.

Fire fighters were sent from Moscow to help tackle the blaze with specialised foam-making equipment.

'Decaying system'

The BBC's correspondent in Moscow, Caroline Wyatt, says since the collapse of the Soviet Union a lack of funds has forced the Russian military to continue using ageing equipment long beyond its planned lifespan.

Russian Space Forces Commander, Anatoly Perminov
Mr Perminov said weapons and secret documents were recovered

Experts have warned that Russia's decaying satellite systems could prove a major problem, potentially giving false alerts about incoming missile attacks.

However, the Russian military say that is not a danger.

Russian military specialist Alexander Golts quoted by Reuters news agency said 70% of Russia's 100-130 military satellites were nearing the end of their operational life.

Russian officials compared the fire with the blaze that seriously damaged the Ostankino telecommunications tower last August, leaving millions of Muscovites without television broadcasts.

The incident also recalled an alert last December when Russia's space mission control centre lost contact with the ageing Mir space station, prompting concern that the 14-year-old craft could fall to earth in an uncontrolled descent.

Mir was eventually brought down from orbit in a controlled crash earlier this year.

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See also:

10 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Russia's military eyes in the sky
28 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
Crash prompts Russian rocket ban
28 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Russia suffers fresh space setback
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