A senior official at Russia's space agency awaiting trial on charges of embezzlement was found knifed to death, lying sprawled in a pool of blood in jail.

Vladimir Evdokimov's body was found in the cell's toilet around 4am local time on Saturday (18 March.) He had three knife wounds — two to the heart and one to the neck.

A senior figure at the national space agency, known as Roscomos, Evdokimov had been moved to a new cell in February, occupied by 11 other inmates. It had not yet been equipped with CCTV systems to monitor the area.

Russia's Investigative Committee spokeswoman Yulia Ivanova, told RIA Novosti, the state news agency, that the 11 other people in the cell were being questioned over the fatal incident.

The 56-year-old's death was announced on the Roscosmos' Twitter account. Evdokimov had worked at as executive director at the agency's the spaceflight and research agency.

Russian authorities launched an investigation to find out if the wounds were the result of an attack by another person or whether they were self-inflicted.

Investigators claim he could have been the victim of a contract killing, according to a Moscow Times report.

An unnamed source close to the investigation told Interfax an assassination was believed the most reliable theory so far, as "Evdokimov's foes feared he could tell their names to the investigation and uncover their criminal schemes."

Eva Merkacheva of the Public Observation Committee, a non-government human rights organisation said: "His death raises many questions, including whether it was suicide or murder. His relatives say nothing to indicate he was thinking of committing suicide prior to the death.

"Quite the opposite, he was determined to win the trial and was making plans. And then he dies in a prison cell, which is strange," Merkacheva told RIA Novosti.

The current head of Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, praised Evdokimov for helping to elevate quality control standards in the Russian space industry, which has been beset by financial mismanagement scandals.

The former space agency director was jailed in December 2016 on charges of embezzling 200 million rubles ($3.1m) from the MiG aerospace company, an AP report said. Evdokimov vehemently denied the charges.