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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Software Said to Cause Rocket Failure

PARIS -- A computer software glitch probably sent the first Ariane-5 rocket off course, prompting ground controllers to blow it up, space officials said Wednesday.

A day after the spectacular failure in Kourou, French Guiana, officials put on a brave face, blaming a guidance fault thet they said did not jeopardize Western Europe's ambitious space program.

Ground controllers destroyed the rocket, together with its uninsured $500 million scientific satellite payload, after it veered off course 37 seconds into its maiden flight.

Daniel Mugnier, launch operations director for the French Space Agency CNES, told a Kourou news conference that preliminary data indicated computers had sent wrong information to the rocket, causing it to change direction and break apart.

"This is not a disaster, but rather an incident ... . It will not delay the second mission for a long time," said Yves Le Gall, head of strategy at CNES.

"We could have feared an incident on the propulsion system, it does not appear to be the case ... . We are rather confident, as an electronic system is not the propulsion system and does not need costly tests," Le Gall said.

Echoing Le Gall, French Space Minister Francois Fillon said the cost of the failure would not be very high if it was due to a guidance fault.

He said the Ariane-5 project had so far cost some 40 billion francs ($8 billion) and was already 20 percent over budget.

The commission set up to investigate the accident will report by mid-July. The second Ariane-5 rocket has already been built, but its September launch will probably be delayed, Fillon said.

President Jacques Chirac voiced his trust and support to all those who had worked for a decade on Ariane-5: "I am at their side, sharing their disappointment today, just as tomorrow I will share their pride when Ariane-5 is completely ready."

Analysts say it will now be difficult to portray Ariane-5 as the asset maintaining Western Europe's lead in launching heavy satellites and possibly leading to manned space flights.