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Russia's Medvedev fires space agency chief

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaks during the United Russia political party convention in Moscow October 5, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaks during the United Russia political party convention in Moscow October 5, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev dismissed the country's space agency (Roskosmos) chief Vladimir Popovkin on Thursday, three months after the latest botched satellite launch.

"I hope that a number of problems that we have unfortunately seen in Roskosmos' activity will be overcome with your appointment," Medvedev told Popovkin's successor to the post, former deputy defence minister Oleg Ostapenko.

Popovkin, a former senior defence ministry official, denied media reports earlier this year saying that had been hospitalised after a drunken brawl in the Roskosmos office.

Russia lost roughly $200 million after a rocket carrying satellites crashed shortly after lift-off from the Russian-leased Baikonur launchpad in Kazakhstan in July.

Medvedev at the time said that Russia had lost 10 satellites in seven failed launches in less than a year.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees defence industry in the cabinet, wrote on Twitter that Popovkin would be given a senior post in Russia's space industry.

The practice to rotate officials regardless of their failures dates back to the Soviet political system dominated by the Communist Party, operating as a one-class club with internal disagreements rarely coming to light.

Russia is increasing spending on space and plans to send a probe to the moon in 2015. But the pioneering Russian programme that put the first man in space in 1961 has been plagued in recent years by setbacks, including abortive satellite launches and a failed attempt to send a probe to a moon of Mars.

(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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