Moscow loses control of military satellites Fire at space centre

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The Independent Online

The Russian armed forces lost contact with four military satellites after a fire gutted a command post south of Moscow.

The Russian armed forces lost contact with four military satellites yesterday after a fire gutted a command post south of Moscow.

General Anatoly Perminov, the commander of Russian space forces, said: "We lost communications with four satellites, but it is technically possible to restore the communications from some other command post." He said control over other military satellites was continuing as normal.

The fire, at the command post near Serpukhov in the Kaluga region, started early yesterday and raged for 12 hours before being brought under control. A statement by the local administration said that a three-storey wooden building housing the command post had been destroyed. The fire was still smouldering in the afternoon.

General Perminov said: "None of the command post personnel were hurt while documents, programs, firearms and ammunition were removed." He added that the cause of the accident was not known, though the new agency Itar-Tass reported it had been started by a short circuit under the building.

Firemen said they did not know how much damage had been caused because "it's a closed military facility fitted with secret military equipment". Leonid Mayersky, the chairman of the Duma sub-committee for information and communications, said the fire was caused by outdated equipment or by staff error.

The accident underlined the vulnerability of Russia's ageing system of military satellites. The gaps in Russia's satellite and radar surveillance have become more important since President George Bush announced his intention to develop an American missile defence system. "It is not the fire which is serious, it's the object [the command post] which is serious," said Sergei Shoigu, Emergency Situations minister.

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