The satellites were launched from Russia's Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan [AFP]

Three Russian navigation satellites have crashed into the Pacific Ocean, according to Russian media reports, in a potential setback to a project Moscow hopes will rival US navigation technology.

The Ria-Novosti news agency on Sunday quoted an official as saying the satellites had crashed near the US islands of Hawaii after the failed launch from Russia's Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan.

A spokesman at the space agency Roscosmos did not confirm media reports, but said that the satellites had deviated from their planned route following a launch malfunction.

"It was an unplanned situation," the spokesman said, without giving further details.

Rival systems

The satellites were the last of a group of satellites at the heart of Russia's 'Glonass', its answer to the US Global Positioning System (GPS).

Analysts say the failed launch will be a setback to the project Moscow hopes will trump Europe's fledgling Galileo system and challenge the dominance of the widely used GPS.

But Russia's defence ministry said the incident would not affect the roll-out of the new positioning system.

"There are currently 26 satellites in the Glonass constellation, including two emergency satellites. This allows complete coverage of Russian Federation territory," the ministry said in a statement.

Russia has been developing the Glonass system since 1976.

The state has spent $2bn in the last 10 years on the project, and the system is expected to be fully operational by end of January 2011.

Source: Agencies