Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was back at the Vostochny spaceport last week to see how well his latest motivational tactic was working. Apparently, not very well.
A week and a half prior to his latest inspection tour, Rogozin had promised to rip the heads off anybody who was slowing down work on the cosmodrome. President Vladimir Putin had decreed the new spaceport will be ready for its first launch in December.
That approach apparently didn’t have the desired effect. During his visit last Tuesday, Rogozin fired Dmitry Savin, head of the main contractor, Dalspetsstroi. He reportedly left with his head intact and will continue to work for Dalspetsstroi.
This was the second firing of a Dalspetsstroi head in less than six months. Savin’s predecessor, Yury Khrizman, was arrested last October for allegedly embezzling 1.8 billion rubles ($30 million).
While the body count of prominent critics of Leader-for-Life Vladimir Putin rose again last week, the re-nationalization of Russia’s space industry continued to gather steam with a financial move that shows the benefits of being a friend of the Russian president.
The move involved FundServisBank, which was placed in administration (bankruptcy) under the Deposit Insurance Agency. The move was portrayed as an urgent response to a banking crisis caused by western sanctions over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the fall in value of the ruble.
Or was it?
“From a purely economic point of view the bank has no problems … you start to wonder who is behind this,” spokesman Grigory Belkin told The Moscow Times.
RussianSpaceWeb.com says 200 lucky students had a chance to spend their winter break in Russia’s frigid Far East, where they are taking a course in Screwed Up Construction Projects 101.
In an unusual step, the Russian government organized 200-strong “winter student brigade” to provide low-skilled labor in Vostochny beginning on February 1, even though normally such groups would only be available during summer. Official press releases did not elaborate whether members of the brigade would have to skip a semester. As many as 1,200 students were promised in Vostochny during the summer of 2015, Roskosmos said.
A couple of stories in The Moscow Times provide some insight into the re-nationalization of Russia’s space industry. One story claims the changes will create a giant black hole that will suck in billions of rubles while producing little of value. The other spotlights the firing of a prominent space analyst who dared oppose the changes.
SpaceX Founder Elon Musk has long talked about disrupting the launch industry with low prices and technological innovations. In 2014, the impacts of those efforts were felt far and wide as competitors responded to the threat the California company posed to their livelihoods.
ULA Pivots. With SpaceX reeling off one successful launch after another, ULA pivoted on several fronts. One was to announce efforts to significantly reduce costs on its highly reliable but pricey Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. But, even that proved to be insufficient as SpaceX threatened ULA on several fronts.
Russia’s growing economic problems — the result of falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine — are beginning to threaten the nation’s efforts to resurrect its decayed space program:
Russia’s federal space exploration agency Roscosmos could be forced to close down or indefinitely delay whole projects due to the worsening economic situation in the country. The plummeting Russian rouble has rendered the agency incapable of planning their spending ahead of time, national daily newspaper Izvestia reported on Monday.
According to Izvestia, Russia’s Gonets satellite system, launched by the Ministry of Defence and intended to restore Russia’s status as a major aerospace power, may not meet its upcoming deadline for government funding from 2016 to 2025.
“Due to the complete unpredictability of prices in November the scientific engineering council was not able to reconcile anything concerning the orbital system of communication Gonets,” the anonymous source from the central strategic planning of Roscosmos told Izvestia.
Roscosmos’s dependence on EU imports for its satellites and other aerospace projects has made it very sensitive to the exchange rate of roubles to the euro.
Russian Leader-for-Life Vladimir Putin has tightened his already tight control over Russia’s military industrial complex, taking personal control of the commission responsible for carrying 0ut Russia’s defense orders and demoting Dmitry “Trampoline Rocket” Rogozin in the process.
The Moscow Timesreports that Putin warned of burgeoning security threats facing Russia as he took personal control of the Military-Industrial Commission. Under Rogozin, the commission has been unable to break a cycle of “widespread corruption, inefficiency and incompetence” that have made it difficult for contractors to deliver as promised.
“I hope the commission’s new status [under the presidential administration] and its broad powers will allow it to better coordinate the interaction between the Defense Ministry and other departments and enterprises of the military-industrial complex,” Putin said Wednesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the commission’s previous chief, has been dumped down to the position of deputy following the reshuffle.
The new arrangement “will increase the efficiency of state policy in the military-industrial sphere and the … security of the country,” Putin said during a meeting of the commission, according to a transcript on the Kremlin’s website.
Rogozin’s role had been to oversee the defense and space sectors. Despite his demotion, he will continue to have a major role in the space industry, which is being consolidated under a single government-run corporation. Last week, Putin gave him the responsibility for overseeing the completion of the new Vostochny spaceport, which had been managed by Roscosmos.
Putin’s move was made amid a major effort to modernize Russia’s military forces and capabilities. Russia also wants to reduce its dependence on foreign suppliers at a time when it’s facing sanctions over its annexation of Crimea and hostile actions in eastern Ukraine.
A Russian plan to launch cosmonauts into orbit from the new Vostochny spaceport in 2018 appears to have been abandoned, but officials have come up with a way to sort of meet that deadline.
‘RussianSpaceWeb.com reports the current plan is to launch a human-tended microgravity laboratory called Oka-T into space in 2018. The free-flying laboratory will conduct material sciences experiments and would be periodically serviced by cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station.
“I would like to stress that at this point construction work at the launch pad and technical support facilities is lagging behind 30 to 55 days,” Putin said. He called for paying “due attention to that.”
Changes at the top of the Russian space industry have continued as Roscosmos announces a new director for the military projects it oversees, and the acting head of the organization that runs the nation’s spaceport is replaced, according to Russian media reports.
Roscosmos deputy head Anatoly Shilov, the man responsible for managing some of the agency’s most sensitive projects — such as military space launches and the development of military and intelligence satellites — will leave the post he has held since 2009, Kommersant reported Wednesday, citing senior space officials.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for the military conflict in eastern Ukraine are having a ripple effect on the nation’s military-industrial complex, which remains heavily dependent on imports of components from abroad.
Faced with impending EU sanctions on Russia’s defense industry, President Vladimir Putin on Monday urged the Defense Ministry to redouble its efforts to wean the defense sector off foreign suppliers, Interfax reported.
Russian firms currently make their own versions of just 58 of the 206 types of defense products that the country imports, but state development programs should add another 40 to their repertoire by 2020, said Alexander Shilov, deputy head of the Federal Space Agency, or Roscosmos.
The defense industry has already been waylaid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s June decision to prohibit military-industrial cooperation with Russia amid the escalating crisis in Ukraine, blocking Russia from importing the Ukrainian equipment that its defense industry sorely needs.
Roscosmos, which operates several spacecraft that rely on Ukrainian components, last week estimated that Russia needs to spend about $940 million through 2018 to offset losses from the cutting of Ukrainian ties, with most of the cash to be drawn from federal investment programs in the space and defense industries.
President Putin is urging defense and space officials to wean themselves off foreign suppliers as soon as possible regardless of cost.
Bloomberg has an interesting report on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s economic strategy, which is characterized by the type of centralized government control that we’re now seeing imposed upon the space industry.
For all his vows to modernize and diversify the economy, though, Russia remains a nuclear-armed petrostate and Putin’s remedy for growth now is more, not less, government control.
The first launch of the Angara 1.2 rocket was scrubbed at the last minute:
The would-be historic launch was automatically terminated just few minutes before the countdown, the Defense Ministry declared. “Technical issues” are blamed for the incident, said sources in the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
According to the commander of Russia’s aerospace defense troops, Aleksandr Golovko, the launch has been rescheduled for Saturday, 3:15pm Moscow time (11:15 GMT).
“During the launch preparation an automated system has given a red light for carrying out the launch. The launch has been postponed to the reserve date of June 28,” Golovko said.
Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu reported the failure launch to Putin and requested one hour to establish the facts in the situation.
“Do not rush the work. Carefully analyze everything and report to me after an hour,” Putin told Shoigu.
Angara is a modular series of launch vehicles designed to replace a number of existing rockets. On its first flight, the Angara 1.2 will crash an upper stage and a dummy payload into an impact site on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
With ties with the United States frayed over Ukraine, Russia has rushed to deepen its ties with China. Everyone’s favorite Josef Stalin-loving deputy prime minister was in China last week to lay the foundation for deeper cooperation in space.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin has followed last week’s rhetorical bombshell — that Russia was not interested in extending operation of the International Space Station, or ISS, beyond 2020 — by trumpeting a future of increased cooperation with the emerging Chinese National Space Agency.
Meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yang, in Beijing on Monday, Rogozin announced on Twitter that he had signed “a protocol on establishing a control group for the implementation of eight strategic projects.” In a later Facebook post, he said “cooperation in space and in the market for space navigation” were among the projects.
The partnership appears to be aimed largely at post-ISS cooperation. China has plans to place a multi-module space station in orbit by 2020 to which Russia could contribute.