Another Year, Another Russian Launch Failure

The Progress 65 spacecraft is pictured at its launch pad Nov. 29 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: Roscosmos)
The Progress 65 spacecraft is pictured at its launch pad Nov. 29 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: Roscosmos)

They came so close this time.

In another four days, the Russians would have gone a full year without losing a spacecraft in a launch mishap. That’s something that hasn’t happened since 2009-10. In another 30 days, they would have gone an entire calendar year without a launch failure.

The loss of the Progress 65 cargo ship during its launch aboard a Soyuz-U rocket today marks the latest in a string of failures stretching back more than seven years. Since May 2009, Russia has suffered 13 launch failures and four partial failures involving its stable of satellite boosters. (See table below)

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S7 Group Acquires Sea Launch Assets

Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)
Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)

MOSCOW, Sept. 27, 2016 (S7 Group PR) — S7 Group today announced that it has signed an agreement with Sea Launch Group to acquire the assets of the Sea Launch complex. The contract was signed today on the sidelines of the IAC 2016, the International Astronautical Congress taking place now in Guadalajara, Mexico.

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Sea Launch Could Be Coming Back

Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)
Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)

It looks as if the moribound Sea Launch company could have a new lease on life.

Majority owner Energia has scheduled a press conference with the S7 Group on Tuesday during the International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico. The invitation promises a major announcement about the future of the long troubled venture.

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Boeing Say N(ot)yet on Sea Launch Sale

Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)
Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)

The news that Roscosmos has found a buyer for  Sea Launch has sparked more litigation over the troubled launch provider.

Boeing has filed suit to block the sale until it can collect a court judgment of $298 million from its Russian and Ukrainian partners. Boeing won a court case in September that involves payments that RSC Energia and Yuzhnoye owe from previous business dealings.

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Russia Says Buyer Found for Sea Launch

Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)
Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)

It looks as if Russia has found someone to take Sea Launch off its hands.

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has found a buyer for a troubled commercial space project known as Sea Launch, the agency’s director Igor Komarov was cited by the TASS news agency as saying on Wednesday.

“I cannot tell you who the investor is, or the value of the contract, due to certain obligations. I hope that we will have something to say about it by the end of April,” Komarov said. He did, however, say that investors from the U.S., Australia, China and Europe have expressed interest in the project.

The troubled company, which uses a floating platform to launch communications satellite aboard Zenit boosters from the equator, has been on the market for several years. It is majority owned by RSC Energia.

Sea Launch’s last launch was in May 2014. The company has been troubled by launch failures and an inability to secure a significant percentage of the global launch market.

IMF: Ukraine Space Sector Possibly Suffered 80 Percent Revenue Loss

The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)
The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares (aka, Taurus II) rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)

The International Monetary Fund estimates the Ukrainian space industry lost up to 80 percent of its revenues following the Russian invasion of the eastern part of the country.

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Russians Say N(ot)yet to Reusable Rockets

Roscosmos_logoIt looks as if Roscosmos will not be following Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos down the road of reusable rockets. Instead, the newly privatized company will spend the next decade developing a new medium-lift launch vehicle that will serve as the foundation of a super-heavy booster.

That’s the word on the latest draft of Russia’s incredibly shrinking space budget. With its revenues battered by low oil prices, the government has cut back planned spending for 2016-2025 from 2 trillion rubles ($24.4 billion) to 1.4 trillion rubles ($17.1 billion). The government might allocate an additional 115 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) after 2021, TASS reports.

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Russia Led in Launch Successes and Failures in 2015

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)
Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

Russia continued its dominance of the global satellite launch industry in 2015, conducting 29 of 86 orbital launches over the past 12 months. It also maintained its lead in botched launches, suffering two failures and one partial failure.

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Boeing Wins Judgment Against Sea Launch Partners

Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)
Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)

As if the Russian government didn’t already have enough difficulty unloading its trouble Sea Launch venture, there will soon be a massive legal judgment hanging over the launch services company.

A U.S. District Court has ruled in favor of Boeing and against its Russian and Ukrainian partners in the Sea Launch commercial-launch company, saying the partners breached their contract obligations by not reimbursing Boeing their share of Sea Launch expenses.
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Putin Approves Roscosmos Reorganization as Officials Eye Export Sales to China

Roscosmos_logoRussian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law to consolidate the nation’s space industry under the control of a revamped Roscosmos as officials eye export sales to China as a way to offset budget cuts in the nation’s space program.

The law will combine the United Rocket and Space Corporation with Roscosmos, which will become a state corporation. The new company will be led by former auto industry executive Igor Komarov.

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Years of Failures Haunt Russian Space Program

Holy shi'ski! The rocket...it go KABOOMSKI! (Credit: Tsenki TV)
Proton rocket falls to Earth at Baikonur in July 2013. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

Sixteen botched launches in six years.

That’s the Russian space program’s sad record since May 2009. The failure of a Proton rocket earlier today with the loss of a Mexican communications satellite was yet another sign of the prolonged crisis affecting Russia’s once powerful space program.

The crash came less than three weeks after a botched launch left a Progress supply freighter spinning end over end like an extra point before it burned up in Earth atmosphere. There was also news today that another Progress cargo ship attached to the International Space Station failed to fire its engine as planned to boost the station’s orbit.

The list of Russian launch accidents over the last six years includes:

  • 13 complete failures resulting in the loss of all payloads;
  • 3 partial failures that left spacecraft in the wrong orbits;
  • complete loss of 20 spacecraft;
  • 6 Russian GLONASS navigation satellites destroyed; and,
  • an ambitious Mars mission left stranded in Earth orbit.

The table below shows the full extent of the damage.

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Brazil Abandons Troubled Cyclone-4 Program

Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)
Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)

It looks like the rumors I reported last month are true. Brazil has decided to pull out of its joint program with Ukraine to launch satellites aboard Cyclone-4 boosters from the Alcantara Launch Center.

“It is an accumulation of issues,” said Petronio Noronha de Souza, AEB’s director of space policy and strategic investments. “There have been challenges on the budget issues, on the technological aspects, in the relationship between Brazil and Ukraine and in the actual market for export that would be available. So it is a combination of things.”

In an April 14 interview at the Latin America Aero and Defense, or LAAD, show here, Noronha de Souza said a formal government announcement, likely from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the program’s stoppage was imminent.

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Is Brazil Ending Cyclone-4 Program With Ukraine?

Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)
Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)

A report out of Brazil says President Dilma Rousseff is preparing to end the long trouble and repeatedly delayed Cyclone-4 program with Ukraine.

The story, written by Roberto Lopes, the opinion editor of the Journal of Defence Forces, quotes a sourcein the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Russia Looks to Phase Out Rockot Launch Vehicle

Rockot launch vehicle
Rockot launch vehicle

It looks like we can add Rockot to the list of satellite launch vehicles that the Russians will be phasing out.

Russian media are reporting that the converted ballistic missile will be replaced by Angara and Soyuz-2.1v launch vehicles, which have had their initial flight tests over the past 14 months.

In addition to the availability of alternatives, there’s another reason for phasing out the Rockot: it depends upon components from Ukraine, with whom Russia is in conflict.

Media reports say that nation has banned export of Rockot parts in retaliation for the Russian annexation of Crimea and its support for rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.

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Ukraine Space Industry on Verge of Collapse

The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)
The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)

I was just looking at the website for Yuzhmash, which is Ukraine’s principle producer of launch vehicles. I ran across the following letter to employees published on Oct. 10. It includes this rather prediction:

“Pivdenmash [Yuzhmash] is in deep financial crisis, the main factor which is a precipitous decline in production. The current crisis is not irreversible, but the situation is close to the point of no return.

“The actual bankruptcy of the enterprise will result in the loss of Ukraine’s status as a space power, failure of the obligations of the State to enter into international agreements, irreversible loss of proven technologies.”

This was four months ago. And by all accounts, matters have only gotten worse. The fighting eastern Ukraine has intensified. The government’s finances haven’t improved. And employees were given two-month unpaid leaves in late January. That came after many months of 3-day work weeks and partial pay.

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