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Russia fears leak of hypersonic missile secrets to West as security services searches space agency

Russia’s FSB security services raided a top space research centre Friday as part of an investigation into staff alleged to have passed secret information on Moscow’s hypersonic missile programme to the West.

The raid took place on the Central Research Institute of Mechanical Engineering (TsNIIMash), which is the Russian space agency Roscosmos’s in-house think tank.

Sources told the Kommersant daily newspaper that the probe was over “high treason,” with around 10 people suspected of “cooperation with Western secret services.”

Vladimir Ustimenko, a Roscosmos spokesman, confirmed the search to the newspaper and said the agency was providing maximum assistance to the security services.

The search came just one day after the Defense Ministry published several videos of new weapons systems – two of which were Russia’s publicly acknowledged hypersonic missile projects.

The general features of these weapons, known as Avangard and Burevestnik, have been publicly known since March, when they were announced by President Vladimir Putin.

It was not immediately clear what information might have been leaked, with investigators telling Kommersant and other outlets that information on hypersonic projects was revealed to “western intelligence services.”

TsNIIMash is not a military outfit, but Kommersant reports it was involved in some capacity with hypersonic missile research conducted by the Tactical Missile Corporation, a different company. According to unidentified security sources, “it has been established that the leak occurred from employees of TsNIIMash.”

Those employees, Kommersant reported, were in contact with a former TsNIIMash employee, Dmitry Payson, who now works for Roscosmos.
Outside the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash) under the Roscosmos State Corporation responsible for Russian space industry development
Outside the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash) under the Roscosmos State Corporation responsible for Russian space industry development Credit: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS

Mr Payson, a soft spoken rocket scientist with thick graying hair, is well known within the Russian – and international – space communities.

Roscosmos is the main international partner of Nasa, and Payson often attended international scientific conferences.

Asked by RBC for comment, he asked not to be named in connection with the investigation. The news shocked the Russian space community.

One well-read industry blogger, Vitaly Egorov, wrote on Facebook that Payson “is one of the most literate experts of Russia’s space industry … for me, the ultimate assessment of the quality of a post was whether Dmitry held it.

“I don’t believe for a minute he was leaking information, he’s too smart for that.” The FSB has not released any statement on the investigation.

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