Top Russian Space Official Resigns After Proton-M Rocket Failure
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Ten days after a Russian space rocket failed to put two communication satellites into orbit, the head of the company in charge of building the particular rocket handed his resignation. The move also came just one day after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev reprimanded space officials for the failed rocket/satellite launch, according to a government source.
The source said that the resignation of Vladimir Nesterov, 63, head of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center in Moscow, builder of Russia’s Proton rockets, was being processed. The resignation was also confirmed by Roscosmos director Vladimir Popovkin.
A Proton-M rocket fired off on August 6, taking with it two satellites into space. But after an upper stage booster failed to fire for a full 18 minutes, the rocket and its payload got stranded in Earth’s low-orbit. The booster failure caused the multi-million dollar loss of Indonesia’s Telkom-3 and Russia’s Express-MD2 satellites.
Speaking at a meeting with space officials on Tuesday, Medvedev said a series of space failures has damaged the reputation of Russia’s space industry. “We are losing our authority and billions of rubles… We cannot stand this any longer.”
“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.
Medvedev instructed the government to work out “practical proposals” on how to reform aerospace production, and added tighter controls were necessary.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin blamed a string of mishaps on ineffective management and a lack of new talent in the space industry. “As long as our youngest director of Roskosmos’ manufacturers is 62, Mars rovers will only be a dream and Phobos (spacecraft) will fall to the ground,” he said in a tweet.
Popovkin said Tuesday’s talks were tense. “We had a very difficult conversation with the prime minister and the president,” he told RIA Novosti news agency. “All of the criticism addressed at the Russian Federal Space Agency is objective.”
Roskosmos will work to establish independent quality controls, he noted.
Popovkin said that an official investigation into August 6th’s failed Proton-M launch determined that a faulty pipe in the rocket’s Briz-M upper stage booster was to blame. He said as long as Russia’s space industry continues to rely on outdated equipment and an aging workforce, quality standards will continue to deteriorate.
Popovkin said his agency would continue its effort to improve production quality by placing its inspectors at rocket factories and subcontractors.
For a country that conducts 40 percent of global space launches, continued failures will undermine its standing in the market, and continue to strengthen competitors such as European Space Agency’s Ariane rocket.