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Russia unable to resume Proton launches until probe into latest crash is over — deputy PM

May 18, 2015, 15:17 UTC+3
The official said Russia should switch to digital designing in the space rocket industry, gradually giving up Proton boosters and opting for other models, like the Angara rocket
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© Roscosmos via AP

GORKI, May 18. /TASS/. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has asked Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to hold a special meeting with the heads of the federal space agency Roscosmos and the joint probe into the latest loss of the Proton rocket to make a decision whether the launches could go on.

"My request is there should be a meeting with the heads of the probe over its findings. We will unable to launch the Proton rocket until the investigation is over," Rogozin said at Medvedev’s meeting with his deputies on Monday.

"Now it is a matter of honor for the [space rocket] industry to reveal them and reduce the accident rate," Rogozin said.

The vice-premier suggested that Russian space specialists should inform their European and US partners about the investigation results so that "everyone understands that we have taken exhaustive steps to restore the reliability of our technology and this is important for Russia to keep its place on the market of space services."

When asked by Prime Minister Medvedev about Russia’s share on the space services market, Rogozin said: "We have 40% of all launches."

The vice-premier said, however, the situation was changing as labor productivity at US space rocket enterprises was 9-10 times higher.

"We’ll need radical measures to improve the quality of production," the vice-premier said.

Specifically, Russia needs to tighten responsibility at space rocket enterprises, consolidate the industry and modernize it, he said.

Rogozin suspects two basic causes may have been behind the failed launch of the Proton rocket - either faulty design or poor workmanship.

"As a matter of fact, we are dealing with some design feature or violation of manufacturing rules that cause the engine’s abnormal operation under certain circumstances. Apparently, far more scrupulous and thorough work will be needed," Rogozin said at Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s meeting with his deputies.

Rogozin recalled that last Friday’s crash of the rocket was an exact replica of the one that occurred in 1988 and also another one last year.

"In a word, failure of the very same engine system - the rocket’s third stage manufactured at the Voronezh design bureau," Rogozin said.

The head of the federal space agency Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, will lead the panel of inquiry. The general designer of the Angara rocket will be his deputy. This will guarantee an impartial look at the situation," Rogozin added.

The official also said Russia should switch to digital designing in the space rocket industry, gradually giving up Proton boosters and opting for other models, like the Angara rocket.

"Generally, our conclusion is also related to the need to switch exclusively to digital designing and modelling of this sort of situations and, of course, it is necessary to expedite the transition to modern carrier rockets like the Angara, gradually giving up the Proton rockets," Rogozin said.

Medvedev orders financial liability for space launch emergencies

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday it was important that those guilty of disrupting space projects, including launches of carrier rockets, should be held financially liable.

"Besides personal liability, all those who are part of the chain should also bear financial liability," Medvedev said at a meeting with his deputies.

Medvedev agreed with the vice-premier’s suggestion to inform foreign partners about the investigation of the causes for the Proton carrier rocket accident and measures the government was taking to eliminate them in the future to reduce reputational costs.

"Apart from financial losses, there are also reputational costs," the premier said.

"We need to sort this out and officially inform so that we continue these programs on the Proton or Angara rocket basis, which is not that important but understanding that everything will be all right," Medvedev said.

Production defect likely cause for Proton space carrier rocket accident

GLONASS Bulletin Editor Konstantin Kreidenko said errors in the production of the Proton-M carrier rocket could be the cause for its fall during its launch on May 16.

"To my mind, a production defect may be the cause for the Proton-M carrier rocket accident. Somewhere during the manufacture of the third stage, there was no adequate control of technological and assembly operations or there was no sufficient control over materials that were used for the production of the rocket’s units and systems. It is necessary to look for the cause in this," the expert said.

Also, the slow modernization of the ground-based control system does not allow for expanding the volume of data observed and processed from the carrier rocket’s systems or during the pre-launch preparations, the expert said.

"The existing testing equipment of the cosmodrome’s technical and launching complexes apparently registers an insufficient number of parameters of a space rocket system," he said.

"At the same time, the space vehicle is delivered to the cosmodrome several weeks before the launch to hold required checks and tests. Over this time, modern information technologies could make it possible to check the spacecraft more carefully and expose defects that were not revealed in the manufacturing process," he said.

The Proton-M carrier rocket with the Briz-M acceleration unit and Mexica’s Mexsat-1 satellite blasted off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan at 08:47 a.m. Moscow time (05:47 GMT) on May 16.

The Briz-M acceleration unit with the Mexican satellite was expected to separate from the carrier rocket at 08:57 a.m. Moscow time (05:57 GMT). However, a minute before the designated separation, an emergency situation occurred at an altitude of 161 km, due to which the rocket’s head section and third stage failed to separate and burnt up in the dense layers of the Earth’s atmosphere above the Trans-Baikal area in East Siberia.

According to preliminary information, a breakdown occurred in a steering engine of the third stage, similar to the Proton accident last year.

The failure in the launch of the Proton-M carrier rocket in May 2014 was caused by a breakdown of a bearing in the turbine pump system of a steering engine.

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