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No explanation was given for the cause of the engine shutdown.

However, in January 2012, the head of Roskosmos suggested that earlier failures of Russian rockets were the result of sabotage.

“I do not want to blame anyone, but today there are some very powerful countermeasures that can be used against spacecraft whose use we cannot exclude,” Roskosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin said of launch failures.

Tuesday’s launch failure came amid U.S.-Russian tensions over National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, currently in a Moscow airport transit lounge, who initially sought asylum in Russia but then asked 20 other nations for political refugee status.

Russia’s government announced Wednesday that a commission is being formed to find the cause of the launch failure. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin promised to fire space officials found responsible for the failure, the second in the past three years.

Mr. Rogozin also suggested foul play may be involved. “I can say only one thing, that very harsh conclusions will be made regarding this situation. And I would like to tell you that they will be related not only to the search of a guilty person or guilty parties, but they will relate to a much more complex issue,” he told reporters.

It is not known if a sophisticated cyberattack on Russia’s space launch control facility could produce a shutdown of a rocket’s engines.

However, Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, cited in a 2011 speech the example of the catastrophic destruction of a water-driven electrical generator at Russia’s Sayano-Shushenskaya dam, near the far eastern city of Cheremushki, in August 2009 to illustrate the kind of damage a cyberwar could bring.

Nine of the dam’s 10 hydro turbine generators exploded when a technician remotely started one of the generators that was being repaired. The result was an explosion that took out eight of the nine remaining generators.

Tuesday’s rocket failure resulted in the destruction of three Glonass satellites, worth an estimated $200 million, that were to be put in orbit as part of a Russia’s version of the Global Position System of satellites.

The satellites are considered a key feature of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces buildup, since Glonass provides targeting- and precision-guidance for missile warheads.

U.S. strategic nuclear weapons and the command systems that control them are vulnerable to cyberattacks, although most are hardened against many types of electronic attacks, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command said Tuesday.

Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the outgoing commander of Strategic Command, testified in March before the Senate Armed Services Committee that nuclear weapons communications are less vulnerable to disruption by computer network attacks.

“We are very concerned with the potential of a cyber-related attack on our nuclear command and control and on the weapons systems themselves,” Gen. Kehler said.


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