Russia replaces space agency chief Popovkin

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Image caption,
Popovkin's time as space chief was marked with a series of launch failures

Russia has replaced the head of its space programme, Vladimir Popovkin.

The move follows a series of setbacks including an unmanned rocket that crashed and exploded seconds after lift-off.

Oleg Ostapenko, who was previously a deputy defence minister, was appointed the new space chief by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Prior to his ministerial role, Ostapenko served as commander of the military's space forces.

Speaking to Mr Ostapenko, Mr Medvedev said: "You've been engaged in the space industry all your life including at the military posts.

"Now you are set to be involved with space in a slightly different dimension. No doubt that this topic is complex and requires greater attention from the state."

The outgoing Vladimir Popovkin had been in the role for two-and-a-half years. He was appointed in April 2011 during a time of difficulty with the country's space programme. Russia had lost three satellites when a rocket crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

Mr Popovkin had pledged to improve manufacturing standards and quality checks, but he struggled to deliver.

His time as head was marked by embarrassments including the explosion of an unmanned Russian Proton-M rocket, crashed after its launch from the Russian Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan.

The accident was captured live by Russian television in July and the crash spread hundreds of tonnes of toxic rocket fuel.

Other countries still depend on Russia to launch manned rockets to the International Space Station.