Russian space industry disastrously ill
The Russian space industry is gravely ill, as a long string of failed satellite launches and the findings of ensuing probes unmistakably indicate. A wide variety of remedies have been offered, but one thing is pretty clear - only drastic measures will help.
The Audit Chamber has ruled that the management of the Russian space industry is extremely ineffective and uncompetitive. This conclusion following a routine inspection is contained in a report the Audit Chamber published on its website on Thursday.
The report points to a “system of collective irresponsibility” in the space industry. While spending on space soars, the effectiveness of how the money is used dwindles. The federal space program for 2010 was fulfilled 40%, for 2011, 67%, and for 2012, 73%, while the costs of its implementation over the past few years skyrocketed 150%.
Besides, the number of space satellites, put in orbit in 2010-2012, was less than half of the expected amount (47%). Also, these satellites are four times more costly than their foreign counterparts, and their quality, far inferior. Their parameters remain very low, and the rate of failures keeps climbing.
The deadlines for creating clusters of space satellites have to be postponed again and again. The Audit Chamber says that some satellites take decades to make, because Roscosmos - the general customer that orders them - is not responsible either for meeting specific dates or for accomplishing the expected tasks. The development and manufacturing deadlines are not synchronized with those of the delivery vehicles, expected to put them in orbit. Domestic satellites ready for launch are too few, so redundant space rockets manufactured at the budget’s expense have begun to be used for putting in space foreign apparatuses on the commercial basis.
The July 2 abortive attempt to launch three Glonass-M satellites with a Proton rocket is the most outrageous failure in the space industry over recent years. Seconds after liftoff the rocket went astray, caught fire, crashed and exploded. Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin said on Thursday there were three versions of the emergency. None of them is ruled out at the moment - problems with launching equipment, the rocket’s control system and the engine.
Shortly after the tragic incident Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin declared plans for reforming the Russian space rocket industry and pooling its enterprises. “A decision has been made to create a special commission that will draft a presidential resolution to reform the space rocket industry,” Rogozin declared. As follows from what he said, some “unified integrated entity” will be in charge of all space rocket technologies soon. The proposed structure - likely to be called a United Space Rocket Corporation - will have the status of an open joint stock company, and not a state corporation.
The daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta has described the latest abortive satellite launch as “clear evidence of the Russian space industry’s degradation.” “The viewers of that live telecast were witnesses to not just 200 million dollars vanish into thin air. It was the hope for an end to the Russian space industry’s crisis that went up in flames,” the daily says. “The reasons are pretty clear: incompetent management, loss of manufacturing culture and technological backwardness, aging personnel and equipment, the lack of quality control and a comprehensible space doctrine.”
The losses are not confined to the material costs of the accident. The looming collapse of the satellite group GLONASS is far worse. On the eve of the failed launch one navigation satellite Glonass-M No. 728 went dead after just 54 months (4.5 years) in operation, 2.5 years before the end of its seven-year service life. Instead of the standard 24 satellites the GLONASS cluster now as only 23 operational ones. Another four are listed as stand-by ones, but all have expired life cycles.
Pretty soon the satellites that have been in service for more than 60 months will begin to drop out one by one. There are six of them in the GLONASS group.
The daily Moskovsky Komsomolets has published a sad list of Russian space satellites lost over the past three years.
December 5, 2010 - the loss of three GLONASS satellites 2.5 billion rubles worth.
February 1, 2011 - failed launch of the Rokot rocket carrying the secret military satellite GEO-IK-2.
August 18, 2011 - the loss of the Express-AM4 communication satellite meant for digital television broadcasting - the Proton-M rocket failed to put it into the designated orbit (7.5 billion rubles)
August 23, 2011 - the loss of the Progress-M-12M cargo spacecraft, resulting from the failure of the Soyuz-U rocket (material damage estimated at 3.2 billion rubles).
November 9, 2011 - the loss of the automatic inter-planetary space probe Fobos-Grunt, built for exploring Mar’s satellite (5 billion rubles).
December 2011 - the loss of the double purpose satellite Meridian (about 2 billion rubles).
August 7, 2012 - the loss of the newest communication satellites Express-MD2 and Telecom-3 after the Proton-M rocket failed to put them in orbit (5.6 billion rubles).
February 1, 2013 - the fall of a Zenit rocket with the foreign satellite Intelsat-27.
July 2, 2013 - the fall and explosion of a Proton-M rocket with three Russian GLONASS satellites (2.5 billion rubles).