August 15, 2012
Medvedev Orders Russian Space Agency Shakeup: Systemic Solutions Demanded
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the government to work out a plan to improve Russia's space industry organizations. Meeting with both cabinet and space industry officials, Medvedev gave them one month to present proposals for practical steps to tighten controls on spacecraft production and reorganize the federal space agency, Roscosmos. This demand comes in response to a string of failed launches that have tarnished Russia's image as a leading space power.
Over the last eighteen months, there have been seven failed launches resulting in the loss of seven satellites, including two last week. On August 7, Russia's Proton carrier rocket launched from Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan failed to deliver when one of the engines of the Briz-M upper stages that was to inject the satellites into orbit switched off early. The satellites — Russia´s Express MD2 and Indonesia´s Telkom-3 — have been lost in space as a result. Last August, a similar problem caused the loss of a $265 million communications satellite, Express-AM4. For a country that carries out 40 percent of global space launches, this situation creates serious challenges.
"If you compare this to the results of other leading space powers, you will see a colossal difference, unfortunately,” Medvedev said, adding that “nothing similar to this has ever happened” in any other country with a well-developed space industry.
Prime Minister Medvedev stated that Russia could not afford such blows to its budget or its reputation, and that a complex approach was needed to right the problems in the space sector.
"There are also systemic problems not subjective in character. First, there is an outdated production base. Ninety percent of its capacities have been operated for more than 20 years and need to be replaced. Second, it´s a weak electronic components base, which is a common trouble for our industry, and the space branch is no exception." Medvedev also cited a lack of production materials and young specialists in the space industry.
In what might foretell a coming witch hunt, Medvedev also called for understanding "who is to blame for a series of recent failures and mistakes that have been made and establish the level of responsibility for those guilty." Under the current system, insurance companies and the government bear all the costs of failed launches, while the companies and employees who produce flawed parts and equipment have no financial or other responsibility.
The meeting wasn't all bad news, however. Medvedev revealed plans to pump a further 560 billion rubles (over $20 billion USD) into the space industry by 2015.
Academic Igor Marinin welcomes the government's decision to boost allocations, but warns that it may not be enough.
"When Popovkin was appointed as Roscosmos head, he was in principle unable to pull the branch out of a nosedive all alone. It is a fairly long process. Even proper financing cannot solve within a couple of years the problems that have accumulated over three decades of under-financing."
Igor Lisov, a reporter for Novosti Kosmonavtiki (News of Cosmonautics) magazine agrees.
"Financing has indeed been increased. There is a great difference between five years ago and now. Unfortunately, money does not solve everything, or perhaps it may in the future. Normal financing and good management will bring cosmonautics to a new level in 5-10 years."
He cautioned against a mass reshuffle of Roscosmos, however.
"We don´t have enough skilled workers or engineers even for the current amount of work that will continue to increase."