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MOSCOW, March 12. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia’s losses from failed launches of uninsured space vehicles and orbital flights exceeded 20 billion rubles ($547.4 million) since 2010, the Vedomosti daily reported on Wednesday with reference to the Russian Association of Aviation and Space Insurers’ (RAAKS) response to the Kremlin's auditing department.
A total of hundred launches have been carried out over the last four years. Six of them were deemed unsuccessful or wrecked, with at least five uninsured.
Earlier, the Federal Space Agency, alternatively referred to as Roscosmos, preferred to insure only the unique spacecraft like Phobos-Grunt, not the serial satellites such as GLONASS, sources in Roscosmos told the paper. Yet it was faults in serial carrier rockets and upper stages that often disrupted the launches. “The human factor and imperfect control over manufacturing of space hardware, including faults in assembly and inadequate factory tests, have been the main reasons behind space accidents in recent years,” said RAAKS Vice President Pavel Shutov.
First Deputy Chairman of the Sogaz insurance group, Nikolai Galushin, lists other reasons like software errors, mistakes in assembly and installation of carrier rockets, problems with upper stages.
The law on insurance against space risks proposed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev is to mend the situation. The RAAKS letter says it will insure not only launches and operation in orbit but also the testing of rocket engines.
Over the last four years the Russian space industry has seen a number of major failures. In December 2010 three GLONASS-M satellites dropped in the Pacific Ocean following a faulty launch; in February 2011 the geodesic military spacecraft Geo-IK-2 failed to reach the designated orbit. The Ekspress-AM4 satellite was ill-launched in August of the same year; then, the Progress cargo spacecraft fell soon after liftoff. In November 2011 Roscosmos failed to launch the automatic interplanetary station Phobos-Grunt to Mars; in December it lost the Meridian-5 communication satellite.
The Ekspress-MD2 and Telkom-3 satellites did not reach the orbit in August 2012. Last July Proton-M carrier rocket with three GLONASS satellites aboard exploded 30 seconds after take-off.
Experts have been wondering why the space industry that flourished in the Soviet times has been pursued with ill luck since the Soviet Union collapsed. The reasons, they think, are tough financial conditions Russia faced in the 90s, lack of experienced labor force due to low compensations and brain drain and problems with space electronics.
The recent failures indicate grave systemic issues in the Russian space industry, military expert Vladislav Shurygin is quoted by the online paper Aktualnye Kommentarii. “Over the last 20 years we have been using obsolete hardware and have not given much attention to its upgrading,” the expert believes. “During this period we have lost whole sectors of the space industry, like creation of new materials, space electronics. They practically died out and now have to be restored from scratch.”
The failed launch of Proton-M encouraged Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin to initiate a space industry overhaul that suggests splitting Roscosmos in two — Roscosmos itself will be in charge of the state space policy and will be a customer, while the new organization, the United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC), will control most space manufacturing facilities.
Late last year reports came out that the URSC was only the first step towards integration of the rocket and space industry and the government considered merging it with manufacturers of aero-space defense vehicles.
There are also plans for short and medium term. Plans for the foreseeable future are to determine terms of the ISS service and construct the Vostochny cosmodrome. Longer-term plans include exploration of the Solar System - not farther than the Earth’s closest neighbors, though.
Russia also intends to restore the Soviet lunar program four decades after it was terminated. Specialists are still undecided as to what should be done and when; the interim plan is to launch the Luna-25 rover, install a radio repeater in the moon's orbit and deliver soil samples back to the Earth on board the Luna-26 and Luna-27 space probes by 2018.
“We have a triune task — Mars, asteroids and the Moon. But in what sequence should they follow? We have numerous discussions with scientists. The conclusion is that we need to bank on a large-scale project but realize it in stages, deciding what will be the basis for next steps,” Head of Roscosmos Oleg Ostapenko is quoted by the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.
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