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Overhaul pending in Russian space sector

December 03, 2013, 17:45 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Roscosmos

MOSCOW, December 3. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia appears to have learnt some lessons from its failures in outer space and started a fundamental reform of the related industry, now in an acute crisis. After the recent reshuffle President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to set up a United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC).

The reform splits the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) in two — an agency responsible for the state space policy and a corporation that will be comprised of most of the sector’s manufacturing companies. Roscosmos will be preserved with its research institutes and ground infrastructures. The state-run URSC will take over the production of rocket and space equipment, while the state contract, coordination and operation will still be Roscosmos’ domain.

Putin has approved the plan proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of the military-industrial complex issues. The URSC is being established on the basis of the Research Institute for Space Instrument Engineering, which, Rogozin said, had sufficient resources to include rocket and space industry’s stocks.

Once it gets control of the entire industrial base, the URSC will be responsible for the development, creation, testing, technical servicing and utilization of military equipment, rockets and their components. The corporation will also be in charge of creating and launching space vehicles, manned and unmanned spacecraft as well as orbital and interplanetary probes.

The URSC will include most companies and design bureaus, save for some defence companies. The corporation will be comprised of nine federal unitary enterprises to be turned into open joint-stock companies. The URSC's authorized capital will also include the shares of 13 other companies. The corporation will be 100 percent state-owned.

A candidate to be appointed head of the URSC will be proposed by Roscosmos, Rogozin said Monday. Deputy Head of Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, was now in charge of all URSC issues, he added. Roscosmos will decide whether to consider his candidacy.

The URSC will be established in about six months from now, “but its birthday is today”. No additional funds will be necessary. “On the contrary, the companies' consolidation will prove a cost-saver,” Rogozin said.

Spending on the state space program was earlier planned at about 2 trillion rubles within 2013-2020.

Experts are positive about the idea.

The URSC decree is a major revolutionary step in the reform process, believes a corresponding member of the K.E. Tsiolkovsky Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, Andrey Ionin, quoted by

The expert says Roscosmos and the URSC management now face multiple challenges. “And one of the primary tasks is forming a new team, mainly because Roscosmos is now destined to change,” he said. “It is to focus not on production of space equipment and its reliability (this is what the URSC will be responsible for), but primarily on the development and implementation of the country’s new state space strategy.”

The head of the Institute of Space Policy, Ivan Moiseev, wholeheartedly approves of separating Roscosmos’ customer and contractor functions. “Otherwise, there will always be temptations to meet their own enterprises halfway: turn a blind eye on sloppy workmanship, add money, if needed,” the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily quotes him as saying. “There will be no place for this when the functions begin to be executed by different companies.”

“The latest fall of the Proton rocket revealed an incomprehensible degree of the sector’s degradation,” the Russian version of Forbes magazine quotes the director general of SetTelecom, Sergey Pekhterev, as saying. “Just imagine a sensor that some good-for-nothing mechanic hammered in place upside down and remained unnoticed by quality inspectors!”

To begin with, Pekhterev said, the first steps should be “to put the manufacturing divisions together, restore order to management, planning, purchasing, control, training, especially vocational training, that is to carry out the usual management work typical of any confectionery producer or automobile corporations.”

The history of Russian cosmonautics has become a timeline of failures recently: twelve accidents happened over the last two years, the latest being the failed launch of a Proton-M rocket with three GLONASS satellites last July. In 2012 Russian experts estimated the damage from Roscosmos’ failures over the last three years at 27 billion rubles ($9 billion), in particular, the 2010 fall of three Glonass-M satellites in the Pacific, the loss of the communication satellite Express-AM4, spacecraft Progress М-12М, as well as the Fobos-Grunt probe in 2011.

The Russian Auditing Chamber has explained the reasons for such grave accidents in its 2013 report on the efficiency of space spending: “A system of collective irresponsibility has formed in developing and implementing the state policy in this field that resulted in sharp growth of spending, procrastination in research and development and in forming groups of space vehicles with extremely low level of physical and operational parameters and soaring failure rates.

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