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Russian space industry laden with failures

August 08, 2012, 15:51 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The Russian space industry is in a deep crisis, the experts noted in comments on another space failure. The launch of the booster Proton-M, which was to orbit the telecommunications satellites Express MD2 and Telkom-3, turned out to be abortive over a breakdown in the operation of the upper stage Briz-M. Finally overnight to Tuesday Russian spacecraft with a total cost from six to eight billion roubles turned in the space garbage.

Russian space launches have recently ended in a fiasco regularly. The expert noted that the reason for the failures is the lack of the common quality control system.

Proton-M with the upper stage Briz-M, which the Khrunichev State Research-and-Production Space Centre had produced and which was carrying the satellites Express-MD2 and Telkom-3, was launched from the Baikonur spaceport last Monday. The launch vehicle blasted off as scheduled, but at the stage of orbiting the satellites the failure occurred in the third activation of the cruise engine of the upper stage, as it had been running only for seven seconds. Finally the satellites did not get on the target orbit.

This is not the first problem with the operation of the upper stage Briz-M. In August 2011 the telecommunications satellite Express-AM4 was lost over technical malfunctions in its operation.

The specialists have put forward the first versions for possible reasons behind the space crash. The error in the creation of the flight sequence, malfunctions in the control system of the upper stage and the breaking of its engine unit are among the main reasons behind the space incident, a Kommersant source in the interdepartmental committee said.

According to preliminary estimates, the damages from the latest space crash reached from six to eight billion roubles. The lost satellites will be reproduced.

However, Russia is losing not only money, but also the reputation of the country. Telkom-3 was produced by the Information Satellite Systems Company in cooperation with Russian and foreign enterprises on the order from the Indonesian telecommunications company PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia Tbk. The satellite was to provide the telecommunication and television broadcasting services in Indonesia and Indochina. This spacecraft was produced in Russia, which had won an international tender for its creation.

The telecommunications satellite Express-MD2 was created in the Khrunichev Space Centre together with the Italian branch of the Thales Alenia Space joint venture. The satellite was designed for the non-stop, round-the-clock transmission of information flows in Russia. Under the federal targeted program for the development of the television and radio broadcasting in Russia in 2009-2015 the satellite was to provide the digital broadcasting for remote Russian regions.

For the last two years the failures have literally burdened the Russian space industry. A string of abortive launches began on December 5, 2010, when the Proton rocket with three Glonass satellites was launched from the Baikonur spaceport. Over the excessive fuel stock in the upper stage DM-3 the satellites failed to be orbited and dropped in the Pacific. In February 2011 the military satellite Geo-IK-2 was put on the off-target orbit, so failed to reach the target altitude, and in August 2011the satellite Express-AM4, which the booster Proton-M launched, failed to get on the line. Meanwhile, the space freighter Progress M-12M failed to reach the International Space Station in August 2011. Last November the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) failed to launch the unmanned interplanetary probe Phobos-Grunt to the Mars that dealt a particularly strong blow on the space prestige of the country.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin already warned to do blamestorming for the space officials over the recent space failure. Next week Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will convene a special meeting, at which the current tense situation in the Russian space industry will be discussed in detail, Rogozin said.

On Tuesday, some allegations were made public about the dismissal of the leadership of the Khrunichev Space Centre, which had designed the crashed spacecraft. Until recently the leadership of the Space Centre managed to avoid punishment, despite the fact that the reason for two out of five space crashes in the previous year was the malfunctions of spacecraft, which were designed in the centre.

The responsibility of Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin will be discussed as well. The space breakdown occurred after Roscosmos introduced its final inspections of spacecraft at the enterprises of the space industry and tightened the requirements to the pre-launch tests.

“It is impossible to repair for six months the situation, which had emerged in the industry for many years,” the Novye Izvestia daily quoted Director of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade Igor Korotchenko as saying. Reshuffles in the staff cannot settle the problem. “The control over the industry should be established, the quality should be raised, and redundant mediators should be cut,” he believes.

“For the last few years the space industry has not been reformed yet. The corruption is reigning in it. The prices are growing, but the quality is falling. There is no tough control over the quality of component parts, which are delivered by the subcontractors, which had mushroomed around the enterprises of the space industry. The transparency of pricing lacks that resulted in multibillion budgetary injections to be wasted,” head of the international security centre in the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexei Arbatov stated.

Director for development and marketing of the company of space security systems Autolocator Gleb Slavutsky agreed with this opinion as well. “The failures went one after another. In my view, the lack of money is not so acute, as for instance, in the nineties of the previous century. The main problem consists in the lack of a clear organizing procedure and quality control. Meanwhile, the quality control lacks at all stages. This problem is aggravated with the lack of qualified personnel,” he acknowledged.

“The Khrunichev Space Centre, which produces the upper stages Briz-M, should primarily focus on the quality control system,” the former space chief specialist of the Russian Armed Forces Vladimir Uvarov told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily. The latest space crash resulted from the collapse of that powerful structure, which had been created for the development of the national space program some time ago. “The control system was ruined in the civil life and in the armed forces,” Uvarov said.

“Roscosmos has abolished the agency, which was specialized in launch vehicles and upper stages, and now the whole scope of required measures is not taken in the pre-launch testing,” former Roscosmos head Anatoly Perminov told Itar-Tass. The responsibility became vague, it is quite hard to find those guilty in case of any emergency situation, he explained.

Meanwhile, some media reports were made public that the launches of the Proton-M-type boosters with the upper stages Briz-M will be suspended, until the reasons for the crash of the satellites Express-MD2 and Telkom-3 are found. Scheduled future Proton launches were delayed for later dates.

Moscow, August 8