Mir We Go Again

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MOSCOW: When a booster on a Russian-made Proton-K rocket failed six hours into launch Friday, a $100 million U.S.-built communications satellite was lost in space. The Russian Space Agency looks to be close behind. The satellite, built by Hughes Space & Communications International in El Segundo, Calif., was fully insured, and a replacement will be ready in two years. But this was the third major failure of the DM-3 booster in the two years that the RSA has been carrying foreign satellites into space for desperately needed cash (charging about $70M a ride). Will Hughes ask again?

"This incident is very unpleasant," said Sergei A. Gorbunov, spokesman for the Russian Space Agency. "Our competitors from the United States, China and France will no doubt use this opportunity to discredit our space program and lure away our customers." The wandering satellite is not considered a threat to re-enter the atmosphere and cause any damage on Earth--that is, beyond the black eye it has already given the Russians.