Fregat satellite deployment
An illustration of the deployment of small satellites from the Fregat upper stage during its July 14, 2018 launch. Credit: Glavkosmos

For the first time since a Russian Soyuz rocket launched 73 satellites in July 2017, Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, is confirming a problem with the Fregat upper stage.

“According to the telemetry, an anomaly was detected in one of the Fregat’s low-thrust engines,” Glavkosmos told the Russian internet newspaper,, according to a March 12 article.

For months, satellite and insurance executives have tried to determine why a group of cubesats launched into the same orbit failed, while other spacecraft on the Soyuz flight worked. Roscosmos claimed consistently that none of the cubist failures were caused by rocket problems. 

The new Glavkosmos statement solves the mystery surrounding the loss of cubesats sent into 601-kilometer orbit but leads to other questions.

After the July 14 launch, Roscosmos directed the Russian startup Dauria Aerospace to return the 290 million rubles or approximately $5 million Roscosmos paid it to build two remote sensing nanosatellites that failed to respond to commands after the July 14 launch. When Dauria said it could not pay because it spent the money building the MKA-N satellites, Roscosmos threatened to sue.

Meanwhile, Glavkosmos provided a U.S. imagery and data analysis firm Astro Digital with documents proving the two cubesats the company launched on the same flight failed due to a malfunctioning Fregat attitude control thruster. Astro Digital used those documents to prove to a U.S. insurance company that the failure of its two Landmapper-BC cubesats was not its fault and to win its claim for compensation.

“Roskosmos helps a U.S. company get insurance and at the same time sends a claim to Dauria to return all the money,” Sergey Ivanov, Dauria chief executive, told SpaceNews by email. “It looks like Roscosmos is supporting a U.S. startup and ready to kill a Russian one.”

The Russian newspaper Izvestia reported March 12 it obtained a copy of a Russian commission’s report on the July 14 launch that concluded one of the Fregat thrusters in close proximity to the Dauria cubesats failed. “Nevertheless, the state commission did not see a causal relationship between this abnormal situation and the subsequent lack of communication with the nanosatellites,” Izvestia reported.

The Izvestia article quotes Ivan Moiseyev, scientific director of the Russian Institute of Space Policy, saying Roscosmos should conduct a new investigation.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...