Medvedev Fires Roscosmos, Energia Officials Over Proton Failure

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired RSC Energia’s vice president Vyacheslav Filin and Roskosmos Deputy Head Victor Remishevsky over the Dec. 5 failure of a Proton rocket, which sent three expensive GLONASS navigation satellites to the bottom of the Pacific. The Russian leader also reprimanded Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov.

The failure resulted from the fourth stage transfer module being overloaded with fuel, causing the first three stages to under perform. The failure was deeply embarrassing to the Russian government because the three satellites would have completed the 24-satellite GLONASS constellation, allowing it to provide full global coverage for the first time. GLONASS is the Russian equivalent of the American Global Positioning System (GPS).

The Russian government has been eager to recover its Soviet-era space prowess and to prove that it can equal the technological achievements of the United States and other Western powers. Officials are making a major push to install receivers on buses, cars and other vehicles both domestically and aboard. The government is working with India and a number of countries that formed the former Soviet Union to install receivers there.

The failure occurred while the United States Senate was considering whether to approve the START nuclear weapons reduction treaty, which it eventually approved on Dec. 22. Russia needs a full GLONASS system to be able to target its missiles, AFP reports:

Analysts said Moscow refuses to allow the GPS systems into its space and weapons programmes because this would potentially enable Washington to switch off the satellites used by Russia in times of conflict or war.

But Russia has not only failed to get the necessary number of satellites in orbit but also been unable to mass produce the land-based readers that receive the signals from space.

“The irony is that we have been told a million times that we cannot rely on the GPS because the Americans could switch it off at any moment,” said military commentator Alexander Golts.

“But at the same time, our inability to produce these readers means that we will either have to produce them in Taiwan or China or simply go ahead and purchase them there,” said Golts.

“And where is the safety in that?”

Russia expects to be able to complete the GLONASS constellation next year. The origins of the system date back to the Soviet era.

The Proton returned to flight on Sunday, lofting a European telecommunications satellite into orbit. The vehicle used a different type of transfer stage.