Tuesday, 4 September 2012

No longer a space race with a Russian loss of face

The Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, site of most Russian rocket launches. This Soyuz vehicle would carry three astronauts up to the International Space Station.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is annoyed at the litany of errors that have befallen Russia’s space exploration efforts in the last couple of years.

In August the booster of a Proton M rocket with two communications satellites attached cut out, leaving the whole assemblage stranded at a much lower orbit than intended. The craft will eventually fall back to earth and burn up, the satellites still attached to it.

The botched launch lead to the resignation of Russia’s general director of state research and production at Russia’s space centre.

In the past year and a half says Medvedev there have been problems with seven different launches. Ten satellites have been lost. Space officials say there have been only five failures out of sixty launches. Even so it’s a miserable record for a country that once had a groundbreaking space industry. Even more embarrassing, this is happening at a time when NASA has just successfully landed a rover on distant Mars.

The reasons Medvedev has identified are sadly familiar among other technological disasters in Russia in recent years including boats sinking, numerous plane crashes and the flooding of a hydroelectric power station-

1. An outdated and ageing industrial base ever more desperately in need of repair or replacement.

2. A weak base for the supply of specialist modern electronics and construction equipment.

3. An ageing and retiring workforce and a lack of new personnel.

After the technical failures comes the political wrath. The media has been speculating as to which heads will roll. Some of the different agencies which produce different parts are on a ‘hit list’ of responsibility. The Prime Minister though is also reportedly angry with his deputy, Dmitry Rogozin, who instead of making constructive comments started stamping his feet, saying he would take ‘manual control’ of the situation.

The Russian authorities do however want to overhaul the organisation of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and the Russian space industry overall.   

Russia's space efforts are not as blessed as they once were, but efforts are being made to bring back success.

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