Two Russian Space Officials Axed After Proton Failure

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LES MUNUIRES, France — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in a decision whose severity is matched by its swiftness, has dismissed two high-ranking officials from Russia’s space industry and space agency and publicly reprimanded the space agency’s chief as a result of the Dec. 5 failure of a Proton rocket carrying three Russian Glonass navigation satellites.

In a statement posted Dec. 29 on the website of the Russian president’s office, Medvedev announced the dismissal of Vyacheslav Filin, first deputy general designer of RSC Energia of Korolev, Russia. Energia is prime contractor for the Block DM-3 upper stage that was the source of the launch failure.

Also being dismissed is Viktor Remishevsky, deputy head of Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency. Anatoly Perminov, head of Roscosmos, received a reprimand, according to the announcement.

The Dec. 5 flight featured the first use of a newly designed Block DM upper stage, called the DM-3. The new version features, among other enhancements, larger propellant tanks. A report on the failure concluded that it was caused by overfueling of the stage with oxidizer. Rocket preparation teams apparently did not account for the fact that the newly designed DM stage carries larger propellant reservoirs and should not have been filled to the same extent as the previous Block DM model.

The rocket’s lower stage, forced to carry between 1,000 and 2,000 kilograms more weight than expected for the mission, placed the Block DM stage and the three Glonass spacecraft into a too-low, suborbital drop-off point.

Medvedev’s announcement says the dismissal and reprimand decisions were based on a failure review presented by Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s deputy prime minister. The disciplinary measures were punishment “for the errors made in the calculations for refueling the vehicle’s Block DM-3 upper stage,” it says.

“Roscosmos will take additional measures to reinforce disciplinary measures” following orders from Medvedev, the statement adds, suggesting that other Roscosmos or industry officials may be punished as well.