Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev demanded finding the culprits behind the failed launch of the Proton-M booster rocket and the cause of the crash in which three Glonass-M satellites had been lost. The rocket exploded and fell in the 17th second of the flight on Tuesday morning. There were no casualties or damage on the ground. After the accident, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin promised to implement an urgent reform of the aerospace industry.
The Tuesday launch was the first for the DM-03 accelerator unit since the accident in December 2010, the Kommersant reminds. At that time, the Proton-M and DM-03 cluster was unable to put in orbit three Glonass-M satellites which sank in the Pacific Ocean. The accident board found out that due to the error in technical documents, the accelerator unit had 1.5 tons more fuel than the norm.
While specialists clarify the reasons behind the failed launch, the operation of Proton boosters is to be suspended. The Kommersant writes that it was planned to put in orbit four more units by the end of 2013, including the equipment lost on Tuesday. However, the loss will not critically affect the orbital group: it has 23 units in dedicated use; four satellites are in reserve, one is undergoing maintenance and one is being tested.
The accident caused an estimated damage of over four billion roubles, including 2.4 billion which is the price of the Proton. The launch was insured for six billion roubles. The Investigative Committee is looking into the cause of the accident too.
Its office at the Baikonur cosmodrome began a check of its own on Tuesday. A procedural decision on whether to open a criminal case will depend on the results.
Together with the accident board, a government commission will begin its work, spokeswoman for the prime minister Natalia Timakova said on Tuesday, following Dmitry Rogozin's report on the accident. Its main task is to not only to ascertain the cause of the accident but also to name the officials responsible for it, including those at the Roskosmos company.
On Tuesday evening, President Vladimir Putin chaired a conference over the development of aviation. News agencies disseminated several comments on the Proton accident by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. He said the conclusions would be "very tough" and that "we will not move on with the shape in which the aerospace industry exists today."
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta described the failed launch of the Proton-M booster as "another example of the degradation of Russia's aerospace industry." It is not just 200 million dollars - the cost of the failed launch - that burnt in midair, it is the hope for overcoming the crisis in the industry that brunt, the newspaper said. The reasons are clear: incompetent administration, a loss of the culture of production, technological backwardness, aging personnel and equipment, and lack of quality technological control and a clear space exploration doctrine.
Most likely, they will shift the blame to some locksmith for not tightening a nut properly, the newspaper suggest, especially because Roskosmos has an increasing number of guest workers at Moscow companies who are former tractor operators of collective farms. As is the salary, so are the workers, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta says.
After the dissolution of military acceptance inspection and its partial restoration, the level of technological control at aerospace companies decreased dramatically, it notes. The situation with parts and materials must be difficult too.
The loss is not limited to what Russia forfeited in the accident. The collapse of the Glonass orbital cluster is much worse. Before the ill-fated launch, on July 1, Glonass-M unit # 728 stopped emitting signals. It logged 54 months of service life, i.e. 4.5 years instead of specified lifespan of 7 years. The cluster now has 23 units in dedicated use. Another four are in reserve, but these are the units whose operating period has expired.
The units which have operated for more than 60 months will begin to fail in the near future. There are six such satellites in the cluster. It is useless to speculate on the date on the next launch of Glonass-M satellites. Also, we should remember that they can no longer be regarded as state-of-the-art equipment. If we consider that Glonass is the only high-tech project which Roskosmos managed to implement, the situation looks quite gloomy.
The accident, aside from the loss of a rocket and satellites worth over two billion roubles created a multitude of side problems, the Moskovsky Komsomolets underlines. Firstly, Kazakhstan will certainly demand compensation: it is unclear if the poisonous cloud will bypass the inhabited districts of Baikonur. Secondly, it is certain that the launches of "poisonous" Protons from Kazakhstan will be cancelled in the news few months. Lastly, blamestorming will begin within the aerospace industry.