Russia’s No. 2 Official Blasts Roscosmos, Space Industry

by

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Aug. 5 delivered a broad indictment of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, and the Russian space industry and suggested financial and criminal penalties may be in order following the July 2 failure of Russia’s heavy-lift Proton rocket.

Rogozin’s statement, a link to which he posted on his Twitter account, came after he read the final report of the government commission investigating the failure, which destroyed three Russian government Glonass positioning, navigation and timing satellites.

The failure has been traced to the fact that the rocket’s angular rate sensors, which guide its trajectory on liftoff, were installed upside-down.

Rogozin Twitter feed

Rogozin, whose portfolio includes Russia’s defense industry, is withering in his judgment of the state of Roscosmos, Russia’s space-hardware industry and the relationship between the two.

He says the U.S. action film “Armageddon” turns out to have been not far off when it depicted a Russian cosmonaut wearing a fur cap in orbit and using a hammer to fix glitches. “Apparently we really do use hammers to put units into place,” Rogozin said, referring to the way the angular rate sensors were installed.

Rogozin’s speech includes a plea that this failure review not be limited to casting a light on workmanship or technical issues, but be widened to look at Russia’s space industry — which he said has too many companies doing the same work, leading to industry-wide low salaries — and Roscosmos’ relationship with the industry.

He specifically says that a proposal to install video surveillance in production facilities is the kind of Band-Aid fix that does not get to the root of the matter. “We know who did it,” Rogozin says of the badly installed sensors. “There are lots of explanations, including staff turnover and underfunding. We now see that measures taken by the Federal Space Agency to ensure quality and reliability of industrial output have failed.”

Rogozin said many Russians no longer know why so much money is spent on the space industry. Scholarly papers on missile and space technology numbered 716 in the United States between 2007 and 2011, and 658 in Europe, he says. “In Russia — 132!” 

Low wages in an industry that receives so much government financial support are inevitable, he says, given “the huge number of enterprises engaged in the same activity, simultaneously working on the same tasks.”

But Rogozin’s speech is also in keeping with Russian post-failure tradition of seeking guilty parties and punishing them. U.S. and European space industry officials have long said this may not be the best way to encourage self-examination in an industry that needs it.

Rogozin says recent rocket anomalies have been caused by “ridiculous technical errors, a lack of appropriate technical discipline, and possibly criminal negligence of officials and superficial measures taken by the Federal Space Agency to ensure the quality of commercially available equipment, and the lack of financial and administrative responsibility of companies and specific managers for their performance.”

Rogozin notes that a majority of recent rocket failures have occurred during launches of government satellites. Commercial launches, notably of Proton, have a better success record even though the vehicles are ostensibly identical. In the past five years, 66 percent of Proton launches have been of commercial satellites, with the launches organized by International Launch Services (ILS) of Reston, Va. The rest were of Russian government payloads. But four of the five Proton failures during the period were of government launches, with the fifth occurring during a launch organized as a quasi-government mission. “These figures make you wonder,” Rogozin says. “Government missions do not carry insurance. Maybe this factor has an impact on the organization responsible for the launches?”

Poor management, excess production capacity and “a murky understanding” by company and agency managers of the real-world working conditions in the space industry all played a role in the July 2 failure, Rogozin says.

And in what appears to be a warning to Roscosmos managers and to Proton’s prime contractor, the government-owned Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, he concludes: “Let me remind you that the special state commission is charged not only with identifying the technical cause of the accident, but also with deciding the guilt and responsibility of industry and agency representatives in connection with this accident.”