Medvedev Out as Khrunichev Chief

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has removed the top executive of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, one of the nation’s top space manufacturers, due to recent technical glitches including a failure of one of its rockets.

Putin signed a decree Nov. 26 to fire Khrunichev Director-General Alexander Medvedev and install a senior government space official at the helm of the Russian industry flagship. Vladimir Nesterov was plucked from the Launches and Ground Infrastructure department at the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) to run Khrunichev, according to a statement posted on the agency’s Web site Nov. 28.

The statement did not say why Medvedev was fired, but a source in Roskosmos cited a pair of October incidents — the failure of a Rockot launcher and the temporary loss of control of the Khrunichev-built Monitor-E Earth observing satellite — as the principal reasons. The Rockot failure destroyed the European Space Agency’s Cryosat satellite; engineers have regained control of the Monitor-E craft.

Moscow-based Khrunichev’s primary product is the Proton rocket — one of the workhorses of the international launch industry — and the company also built a module on the international space station. The company is developing a new family of rockets dubbed Angara, a project that is behind schedule.

“Of course the recent failures have factored in…. [B]ut we hope that a new director will also give an impetus to the Angara and other new projects,” the Roskosmos official said in a telephone interview Nov. 28.

The official, who asked not to be named, said Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov nominated Nesterov, who has been with the agency since retiring from the Russian Military Space Forces in 1992. Perminov presented Nesterov to Khrunichev’s top management Nov. 28 , the official said.

A Khrunichev official said lower-tier managers were not in on that meeting and that many learned of Medvedev’s firing from the Roskosmos Web site.

This official refused to speculate on the reason for the firing, although he noted that Medvedev had been the subject of considerable media criticism in the wake of Rockot and Monitor-E incidents.

“It could be over allegations of failures, but I really don’t know why,” said the Khrunichev official, who asked not to be named .

The official said that as of Nov. 28, Khrunichev staff was still gearing up to host reporters for a scheduled Nov. 29 press conference during which Medvedev was to announce that the center’s engineers regained control of the Monitor-E satellite.