Putin Demands Answers as First Angara Launch Scrubbed

Angara-1.2 launch vehicle on pad at Plesetsk. (Credit: Khrunichev)
Angara-1.2 launch vehicle on pad at Plesetsk. (Credit: Khrunichev)

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.

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China & Russia Sign Space Pact, But What Will It Produce?

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

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.

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Putin Eyes Ukraine’s Space and Defense Industries

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Russian Federation was left with some key installations and capabilities in newly-independent nations. Kazakhstan had authority over the main launch facility at Baikonur, while Ukraine found itself in control of ballistic missile producer Yuzhmash, the Yuzhnoye bureau that designs Yuzhmash’s rockets, and a host of other defense companies.

Today, more than 50 Ukrainian arms factories turn out technologies that are vital for the nation’s tottering economy and the Russian military that now threatens to invade it. The factories are located in the southern and eastern portions of Ukraine, where Moscow-based separatists have wrestled control away from local authorities.

With the fate of these regions and companies still very much up for grabs, the outcome is of concern far beyond eastern Ukraine. Launch providers in the United States, Europe and Brazil are looking on with great concern and trepidation.

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The Rogozin Plan: Competitiveness Through Gov’t Control, Larger Fines

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

RIA Novosti has the latest space pronouncements from Russia’s Josef Stalin-admiring Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, whom Vladimir Putin has put in charge of revamping the defense and space sectors. And boy, does he sound confused.

To summarize:

  • It is intolerable that Russia has only three percent of the world’s space revenues, which come almost exclusively from launch vehicle contracts
  • The future lies with companies becoming more competitive, creating more public-private partnerships, and securing additional outside funding
  • However, the government is consolidating much of the space industry — except for big companies like Energia and Khrunichev — under one government-controlled corporation, which might tend to limit competition, partnerships and outside investment
  • To encourage companies to deliver spacecraft on time, Rogozin would cut into their revenues with larger fines.

Read the full story.

If you want to read more about Rogozin’s efforts to reform Russia’s defense and space industries, this essay from The Moscow Times titled, “Rogozin’s Three Ring Circus,” is fascinating look at his neo-Stalinist approach to reform.

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Putin Signs Decree Creating United Rocket and Space Corporation

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin tours RSC Energia in July. (Credit: Russian Federation Government)
Russian President Vladimir Putin tours RSC Energia. (Credit: Russian Federation Government)

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to establish the United Rocket and Space Corporation, an entity designed to consolidate much of the nation’s space industry under one entity while reducing inefficiencies and redundancies.

The move comes after three years of embarrassing and costly launch failures overseen by the Russian space agency Roscomos, which will have its role shifted to contracting, coordination and policy implementation.

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Rogozin Outlines Plans for Consolidating Russia’s Space Industry

Roscosmos_logoRussian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin outlined plans for a sweeping reform of the nation’s troubled space industry to President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. The plan involves re-nationalization the industry under a unified command structure and reducing redundant capabilities, acts that could lead to tens of thousands of layoffs.

Speaking to President Vladimir Putin about the plans, Rogozin said a new state corporation will be created to take over manufacturing facilities from the Federal Space Agency, whose prestige has been severely dented in recent years by a string of failed rocket launches.

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Gerard Depardieu: ‘I’m Too Fat to Fly into Space’

Gérard_Depardieu_Vladimir_Putin
Giving new meaning to the term bear hug, French tax refugee Gerard Depardieu greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia in January 2013. (Credit: www.kremlin.ru)

French actor and current tax exile/Russian citizen Gerard Depardieu paid a visit to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last week to view the launch of a new crew to the International Space Station and to declare himself ineligible for spaceflight.

“I’d really like to, but I’m probably too big for that,” Depardieu is quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

Indeed.

This was the first trip to Baikonur for Depardieu, who earlier this year fled France’s high taxes and became a Russian citizen. He was welcomed by a pleased — and in all likelihood, startled — Russian President Vladimir Putin, who doesn’t get many refugees seeking asylum in his kleptocratic autocracy.

Rogozin: Russia to Consolidate Space Sector into Open Joint Stock Company

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

The Russian government plans to consolidate its space sector in an open joint stock company called the United Rocket and Space Corporation in a way that would preserve and enhance the Roscosmos space agency, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.

In a recent Q&A with Kommersant, Russia’s space czar said President Vladimir Putin had approved the plan, which had been put forward by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, at a meeting on June 11.  Rogozin said the failure prone space sector is so troubled that it needs state supervision to overcome its problems.

Russia uses the open joint stock company structure in a number of key sectors, including airlines (Aeroflot), railroads (Russian Railways), and energy (Gazprom).  These companies are somewhat similar to limited liability partnerships and corporations in the United States.

Rogozin said he is awaiting a detailed proposal from Roscosmos on how to accomplish the transition. He added that the company would obtain a controlling interest in the Energia company. Currently, the government owns 38 percent of the rocket company.

Russia employs about 250,000 people in its space sector, while the United States has about 70,000 people working in the field, Rogozin said. Russian productivity is eight times lower than in America, with companies duplicating each others’ work and operating at about 40 percent efficiency.

Rogozin seemed to throw cold water on earlier reports that quoted him as saying the government planned to consolidate both space and aviation under one structure. The Google Translate version is a little unclear, but it appears that government wants to two sectors to work more closely together on joint projects where each side has expertise. He mentioned an air-launched rocket project and hypersonic missiles and aircraft as examples.

Editor’s Note:  A big shout out to Nickolai Belakovski for his help in clearing up uncertainties in the Google Translate text. Appreciate it.

Lord Vader Arrives at Vostochny to Rally the Troops

Vader_Death_Star_II
Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

In “Return of the Jedi,” Darth Vader arrives unexpectedly at Death Star 2.0 to check on how construction is progressing.  The ashen faced Death Star commander, Moff Jerjerrod, assures him the men are working as hard as they can, and that the Empire’s newest planet killer will be operational as planned. A skeptical Vader disagrees and vows to find new ways of motivating the men. Jerjerrod gulps — hard.

This must be the way Russian space officials feel every time Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin pops in for a visit. The nation’s hardline space czar toured the Vostochny cosmodrome on Wednesday, and he was likewise unimpressed with the progress.

“I will view any deviation from the plan as sabotage,” Rogozin said at a meeting with representatives of agencies involved in building the cosmodrome. “I have no intention of being one of those public servants who accept failure to deliver on instructions.”

Sabotage? Seriously? That’s his motivational plan?

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Putin Visits Vostochny, Discusses Future of Russian Space Program

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was in the Amur region on April 12 to view construction progress at the new Vostochny spaceport, name its support city after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, announce the commitment of $50 million to the space program through 2020, talk to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, and lay out the future and challenges ahead for the nation’s space program.

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Russia Space Sector Damaged by Focus on Quantity, Not Quality

Proton rocket

Jim Oberg penned a detailed account for Aerospace America of the problems affecting the Russian space program, which has seen a perilous decline in quality in recent years resulting in numerous launch failures.  It seems that at least part of the problem has resulted from an inspection process that has shifted from ensuring quality to increasing quantity.

“The current quality assurance system was created in Soviet times,” the source explained. “Quality is controlled at all stages of launch vehicle, upper-stage, and spacecraft production and assembly. It is the plant’s technical control department and military representatives, that is to say representatives of the armed forces in civilian organizations, that give the go-ahead for the finished, assembled product to be shipped to the spaceport.”

The difference today is that these former military inspectors are now paid by the civilian companies. So the greater the amount of hardware shipped, the better their relations with their management, and the bigger their bonuses will be. Thus they have become reluctant to make a fuss if a fault is found with a rocket or satellite. Instead, the source reported, “everything is settled internally.”

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Putin Dismisses Khrunichev General Director Amid Plans for Deeper Reforms

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Russian Ruler-for-Life Vladimir Putin has dismissed Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center General Director Vladimir Nesterov in the wake of last month’s failed launch of a Proton rocket, which stranded two communications satellites in useless orbits.

Russian media report that the Russian president accepted Nesterov’s resignation. Russia has experienced seven launch failures over the past two years, several of which can be tied to failures of Khrunichev produced upper stages.

Media reports said that Nesterov tendered his resignation a week after the Aug. 7 launch failure. However, a statement from Khrunichev said Nesterov remained on the job and could only be dismissed by Putin.

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Meanwhile, Back on Planet Putin….

Vladimir Putin (Credit: www.kremlin.ru)

Previously on Planet Putin…. Yet another rocket launch went awry, plunging the Russian space program back into a crisis from which it failed to emerge last year. The two Dmitrys sprang into action, promising to name and shame those responsible and to turn around the floundering space program once and for all.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave Roscomos a month to come up with a plan to fix things. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin vowed to personally oversee the establishment of a new quality control system. Heads began to roll as a high-level official resigned. Meanwhile, Ruler for Life Vladimir Putin maintained a steely silence.

And yet despite this frenzy of activity, matters have somehow become even murkier…

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Khrunichev Director General Resigns Following Launch Failure

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Vladimir Nesterov, director general of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, has resigned following the failure of a Proton rocket to place two communications satellites in their proper orbits last week, Russian media sources report.

Nesterov resigned on Wednesday, a day after President Dmitry Medvedev held a meeting to reprimand Russian space officials over the latest launch failure. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin also severely criticized the Khrunichev boss on Monday.

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