The human cost of Russia's lost spacecraft

Nov 30, 2011 By Amy Shira Teitel, Universe Today
A Russian Proton-M Rocket. Credit: RIA Novosti

It hasn’t been a great year for Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. In the last twelve months, it has lost four major missions on top of the aerospace industry’s failure to produce its planned number of spacecraft.

For the most part, lost missions conjure up feelings of despair for the from a scientific or exploration perspective – what does the silent satellite or failed launch mean for the agency’s immediate and overall goals? But there’s another side to lost missions that are less common. What does a lost mission or failed launch mean for the people responsible? All four missions Roscosmos has lost in the last year have been substantial. In December 2010, a Proton-M booster failed to put three Glonass-M satellites in orbit. These were meant to enhance ’s Global Navigation Satellite System, the Russian counterpart to America’s GPS system, and just recently, Russia successfully launched replacements.

In February, a Rokot booster carrying the Geo-IK-2 satellite ended in failure. The satellite was designed to build on Russia’s geodesic research. Acting as a precise reference point, it would help scientists take accurate measurements of the Earth’s shape and the properties of its gravitational field and support such fields as cartography, missile guidance, study of tectonic plate movements, ocean tides, and ice conditions.

The loss of these missions was doubtless devastating for the teams who designed them, but the After the loss of Geo-IK-2, a number of senior space industry officials were fired and Roscosmos’s chief, Anatoly Perminov, was forced to resign.

A schematic showing the loss of theProgress M-12 expendable spacecraft. Credit: RIA Novosti.

In August, another Proton-M rocket failed to launch an Ekspress-AM4. The communications satellite was designed to provide digital television and secure government communications throughout the Russian Federation extending far into Siberia and the Far East.

This failure prompted further disciplinary action. A Russian State Commission of inquiry was established to determine the reasons for the failure. The International Launch Services (ILS), a joint US-Russian venture with exclusive rights to launch commercial payload from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, formed its own Failure Review Oversight Board to review Roscosmos‘ final internal report. The final verdict was both missions were lost due to negligence.

Things didn’t get better for the Russian Space Agency. Only a week after the loss of Eskpress-AM4, A Soyuz-U booster failed. Its cargo, the Progress M-12 expendable cargo spacecraft, never reached the crew waiting for its contents aboard the International Space Station.

Now, it looks like further harsh disciplinary action might befall the scientists and engineers behind the failed Phobos-Grunt. Designed to land on Mars’ larger moon and return a soil sample, the spacecraft got stuck in Earth orbit in November. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested that those responsible for the failure need to be punished. They could he fined, he said. He even went so far as to suggest criminal prosecution. The threat might be directed at Lavochkin, the company that built Phobos-Grunt.

It’s possible Medvedev is protecting the Russian people who, like Americans, foot the bill of their nation’s space program. But he might not be. The failures do, after all, deal a serious blow to Russia’s technological pride and standing as a power in space.

“I am not suggesting putting them up against the wall like under Josef Vissarionovich (Stalin), but seriously punish either financially or, if the fault is obvious, it could be a disciplinary or even criminal punishment,” Medvedev said.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Roscosmos isn’t the only Russian industry to be target by Medvedev’s calls for disciplinary action. Similar calls have been made for disciplinary action after carelessness, corruption, and problems within Russia’s infrastructure, such as a riverboat sinking in July that killed 122. The difference is that no one dies when an unmanned spacecraft fails to complete its mission.

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User comments : 44

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Jordian1
3.9 / 5 (7) Nov 30, 2011
Don't blame the scientists, you're the ones that gave them a shoestring budget and demanded they make miracles.
Blakut
5 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2011
Yeah, usually when things go bad, engineers take the blame, while the managers who are responsible get a raise.
Nerdyguy
1.9 / 5 (15) Nov 30, 2011
""I am not suggesting putting them up against the wall like under Josef Vissarionovich (Stalin), but seriously punish either financially or, if the fault is obvious, it could be a disciplinary or even criminal punishment," Medvedev said."

I wonder how many of the flagrantly anti-American crowd here will be decrying Comrade Medvedev's wonderfully humanitarian sentiments.

Yet one more reason why the U.S. needs a NASA with real power, a real budget, and real leadership. Or we can all just kiss it goodbye and learn Mandarin.
El_Nose
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2011
learn Mandarin -- thats a bit harsh --

Let's not forget that the Chinese are in no way close to America in a lot of different issues. ( I can hear the protest through my t1 connection )

Their budget is nothing compared to the US's or Russia's for that matter. We spent 1.8 Trillion - with a T - to prop up our economy - China spent 500 Billion

China's space budget is 2 Billion -- we just spent that on one satellite, check that - we spent 2 billion for the budget of one satelitte annually -- the US space budget is 15-17 Billion anually

China is no where near the capability to design and create the James Webb ... let alone actually attempt to compete with the US in space --- now maybe in 50 years but as of right now they are decades behind us simply because they don;t have the money to fund their program to our levels

And 17 Billion is a shoestring bugget to NASA -- just think what they would blow 100 Billion on - ... Star Trek }:-o
Nerdyguy
2.1 / 5 (11) Nov 30, 2011
learn Mandarin -- thats a bit harsh --

Let's not forget that the Chinese are in no way close to America in a lot of different issues. ( I can hear the protest through my t1 connection )


Oh, I don't disagree with you. I was referring to the long-term consequences if we keep on the same path we're on today. While I'm optimistic we'll do better, I'm pragmatic enough to know how bad it can get. Just basically a quick peek at the history of any country who ever had it good and pissed it all away gives me pause.

Anyway, I do think a whole lot of people are underestimating the Chinese in science and technology, particularly space exploration.

We may have a certain lead. However, they have momentum, and a very specific national agenda of "kicking the ass of America and all her friends". This can be a great motivator for science innovation.
thuber
5 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2011
First of all, the scientists were paid. It is a business, so I do not worry about the emotional trauma. The participants are not victims. They will either learn from their mistakes and improve, or learn nothing and fail repeatedly. Second of all, nationalistic ambitions and cultural insecurity are the primary reason for the failures of the Russian space program as well as for the continued failures of the Chinese space program. Space technology is complex. When development efforts are more symbolic than scientifically incremental, failure almost always results.
Nerdyguy
2 / 5 (8) Nov 30, 2011
The "Universal Guide for Going Into Space" sums it up nicely.

http://www.wired....o-space/
Callippo
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2011
The USA could face the same destiny, if they will lose the continuity of cosmic flights, like the Russians. The flying to cosmic space is like any other sport - you should train it all the time, or you'll lose your shape. Without implementation of cold fusion the future of cosmic flights is highly uncertain, because nuclear engines are dangerous in the light of the latest accidents and chemical fuels of low energy density.
Nerdyguy
2.3 / 5 (9) Nov 30, 2011
The flying to cosmic space is like any other sport - you should train it all the time, or you'll lose your shape.


Well said.
Vendicar_Decarian
3.7 / 5 (9) Nov 30, 2011
"I wonder how many of the flagrantly anti-American crowd here will be decrying Comrade Medvedev's wonderfully humanitarian sentiments." - NerdBoy

Decry? You are completely out to lunch as always.

I commend him.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (10) Nov 30, 2011
First of all, the scientists were paid. It is a business, so I do not worry about the emotional trauma. The participants are not victims. They will either learn from their mistakes and improve, or learn nothing and fail repeatedly. Second of all, nationalistic ambitions and cultural insecurity are the primary reason for the failures of the Russian space program as well as for the continued failures of the Chinese space program. Space technology is complex. When development efforts are more symbolic than scientifically incremental, failure almost always results.

It has been only about 22 years since the dismantling of the Soviet Union. . . .which means that most if not all the KGB are still around. The old saying, "once a KGB, always a KGB". Putin, a former KGB official will most likely be voted as President once again. He has called for more POWER and is likely to get it when elected.
Pirouette
1.4 / 5 (10) Nov 30, 2011
The Russian scientists are afraid. . . .they will be dealt with harshly. It would be almost impossible to have to work on a space project when, in the back of your mind, you wonder what will happen to you if you and your colleagues fail again. These scientists are not free to do their research and development like American scientists. They would love to trade places with our scientists in the U.S. if they could.
rwinners
5 / 5 (1) Nov 30, 2011
"And 17 Billion is a shoestring bugget to NASA -- just think what they would blow 100 Billion on - ... Star Trek }:-o"

Do remember that everything costs less in China. OTOH, I'd love to see the NASA budget triple.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (10) Nov 30, 2011
Everything costs less in China because they were late coming into a modified Capitalist system and their yen compared to the dollar was pitifully low. That's why Chinese goods, sold in America, were so cheap and readily available to American consumerism. Plus cheap labor and low overhead costs and the fact that no shirking of duties on the job was allowed and punished severely by their hard taskmasters. The Chinese also have no Union officials to ensure that the workers are treated fairly and have a fair wage and some benefits. That is the Chinese way, unlike in the U.S. where Unions demand incredibly high wages for workers whether or not the workers do a satisfactory job.
In order for NASAs budget to triple, each taxpayer in the country would have to pay enormous amounts over and above what they pay now.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (9) Nov 30, 2011
I am surprised that Medvedev saw fit to harshly condemn, accuse and even threaten the Russian scientists for their failures. How could he expect them to do a better job in the future with all that on their shoulders now. It's evident the man has no finesse nor a sense of reverse psychology. Less restrictions, a human resources program, better understanding of the pressures involved would go a long way and get better results from everyone, including the workers on the unit itself.
ShotmanMaslo
not rated yet Dec 01, 2011
"And 17 Billion is a shoestring bugget to NASA -- just think what they would blow 100 Billion on - ... Star Trek }:-o"

Do remember that everything costs less in China. OTOH, I'd love to see the NASA budget triple.


Accounting for that, Chinese GDP at purchasing power parity is 10 trillion (up from 5 trillion), compared to US 14 trillion.

In order for NASAs budget to triple, each taxpayer in the country would have to pay enormous amounts over and above what they pay now.


Nope, if NASA budget were to triple, taxpayers would not even notice it. NASA budget is only 0.6 % of federal budget.
Walfy
not rated yet Dec 01, 2011
Medvedev says, "I am not suggesting putting them up against the wall like under Josef Vissarionovich (Stalin), but seriously punish either financially or, if the fault is obvious, it could be a disciplinary or even criminal punishment."

That's pretty outrageous, and bespeaks of the underlying cause of the failures. In Russian history there is so much reliance on the central state authority, whether Czar or Party leader, exercising its brute will power upon the institutions, and persuading by threat of killing off funds or people alike. He's not suggestion putting them up against the wall, but the thought occurred to him as a perhaps a natural response. A lot of energy is wasted on grandiosity instead of down-to-earth science.

Well, what do you expect when the Mongols ravage your land and people and the Enlightenment shines on you hundreds of years too late? Lots of dysfunction. But the playing fields are opening up with the decline of America. To each its turn.
omatumr
1 / 5 (6) Dec 01, 2011
My impression is that Russian scientists and American engineers are both extremely talented, . . . much more so than Russian engineers and American scientists!

But such generalizations are usually wrong and mostly indicate mental laziness.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA PI for Apollo
http://myprofile....anuelo09
Vendicar_Decarian
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 01, 2011

"In order for NASAs budget to triple, each taxpayer in the country would have to pay enormous amounts over and above what they pay now." - Spirochete

NASA's budget is about 18 billion per year. An additional 36 billion spread over 300 million people is $120 per person or about $500 per year per U.S. family per year. Meanwhile the U.S. federal budget is about $40,000 per U.S. family per year.

plasticpower
5 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2011
All of the experienced engineers have left Russia a long time ago and are probably now working at NASA or some other organization where they actually get paid to do what they love and aren't expected to meet ridiculous deadlines or fulfill crazy demands under the threats of getting fired.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (3) Dec 01, 2011
He has called for more POWER and is likely to get it when elected.
And? What's your beef with KGB agents? Many have great skills great education and great restraint. Russia needs a means of centralization otherwise the regional governors would seize power and it would fly apart. It's not pretty but every last Russian knows it to be reality. Of course it would be great to grow past the centralization stage. Perhaps even relocate the capitol. Zyuganov has proposed as much. But that is a multigenerational process.

Well, what do you expect when the Mongols ravage your land and people and the Enlightenment shines on you hundreds of years too late? Lots of dysfunction. But the playing fields are opening up with the decline of America. To each its turn.
Indeed it may Russia's turn to carry the torch for the enlightenment while the West decays on feral capitalism and degrades into neofeudalism. In a way the timing seems apt.
kochevnik
3.2 / 5 (6) Dec 01, 2011
The Russian scientists are afraid. . . .they will be dealt with harshly. It would be almost impossible to have to work on a space project when, in the back of your mind, you wonder what will happen to you if you and your colleagues fail again. These scientists are not free to do their research and development like American scientists. They would love to trade places with our scientists in the U.S. if they could.
There are many invitations to work and study abroad. Many Russians prefer studying and living in Russia. In some majors a foreign language is common, as in economics and journalism. For hard sciences I can say it is less common. Fleuency is gained after many years of pouring over foreign journals. Students find reading papers in native Russian easier while they master the language of maths. As for freedom Russia has freedoms not enjoyed by Americans. America is hardly Shangri La. Europe is much closer and there are opportunities in Germany.
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2011

But such generalizations are usually wrong and mostly indicate mental laziness.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA PI for Apollo ( bullsh@t)

Hmm a bit rich comming from you is it not?
Nerdyguy
not rated yet Dec 02, 2011

"In order for NASAs budget to triple, each taxpayer in the country would have to pay enormous amounts over and above what they pay now." - Spirochete

NASA's budget is about 18 billion per year. An additional 36 billion spread over 300 million people is $120 per person or about $500 per year per U.S. family per year. Meanwhile the U.S. federal budget is about $40,000 per U.S. family per year.



We have nearly 400 million people genius.

You are clearly an expert on all things about the U.S. How is it possible you can't get a simple calculation correct?

Ignorance of the facts - which should throw into question any of your even slightly sane rants? OR

Willful manipulation of facts to suit your needs?
Nerdyguy
not rated yet Dec 02, 2011
As for freedom Russia has freedoms not enjoyed by Americans. America is hardly Shangri La.


This is easily the funniest thing I've seen all day!

They've got you comrades so brainwashed that you've confused oppression, violence, poverty and one of the lowest historical standards of living among industrialized nations for "freedom". Yes, I suppose it's true that Americans don't enjoy all your special "freedoms" by that definition. lmao
FrankHerbert
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 02, 2011
Lol this is the funniest thing I've seen all day!
We have nearly 400 million people genius.

You are clearly an expert on all things about the U.S. How is it possible you can't get a simple calculation correct?

Ignorance of the facts - which should throw into question any of your even slightly sane rants? OR

Willful manipulation of facts to suit your needs?


307,006,550 - Jul 2009
Source: U.S. Census Bureau (via google)

http://www.census...ock.html
312,704,483
08:15 UTC (EST 5) Dec 02, 2011

I don't think you're cut out for these parts.

EDIT:

OH MAN! It's getting closer to 400 million!

312,704,501
08:20 UTC (EST 5) Dec 02, 2011

SO CLOSE!
Nerdyguy
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2011
Of course it would be great to grow past the centralization stage. Perhaps even relocate the capitol. Zyuganov has proposed as much. But that is a multigenerational process.


Yes, multigenerational, also commonly defined as "never". Ever heard of Putin? He's your dictator Kochevik. He's essentially overturned every freedom that Russians won in the uprising that destroyed the USSR, and Russians still sit back and say "well, yeah, but...there's a "need" for centralization." What a sad joke.

Indeed it may Russia's turn to carry the torch for the enlightenment


Kochevik, your country is filled with poverty and despair. Your leaders have raped your people and your land, and left nothing but gangsters to fill the void of the local communist apparatchik. It's a train wreck of a nation, and you think it will carry a "torch for enlightenment"? That's beyond clueless.
Nerdyguy
3 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2011
Damn, I hate to admit when I'm wrong.

I read 370 million, instead of 307 million. My mistake. I apologize for being a doofus.
Nerdyguy
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2011
I don't think you're cut out for these parts.
-Franky Herbert

Ah, I see. By "these parts" one can only assume you mean the comment section of an obscure science news aggregator. The implication being that there are very high standards here. And, that you would be one of those setting "high standards". I do believe it's not beyond debate to say that you and your dozens of sock-puppet "voters" are just slightly off the mark here. To say the least. Go crawl back under your rock now.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2011
"I read 370 million, instead of 307 million. My mistake. I apologize for being a doofus." - NerdDoofus

Apology accepted.

Remember... Vendicar is virtually never wrong, and ConservaTards are almost always wrong.

Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2011
"Kochevik, your country is filled with poverty and despair" - NerdBoy

Yup. Look at this poverty and despair...

http://www.youtub...0D3lOfx8
http://www.youtub...=related
http://www.youtub...=related
http://www.youtub...e=relmfu
Nerdyguy
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2011
"Kochevik, your country is filled with poverty and despair" - NerdBoy

Yup. Look at this poverty and despair...

http://www.youtub...0D3lOfx8


You're posting some Youtube videos of dancing girls and other nonsense to make a point about Russian poverty?

Yes, it's true that Putin and a few thousand others in the new order of Russia have reaped the rewards of raping the resources of the Russian people. Yes, it's true they can buy pretty things.

But, getting back to the issue, Russia is a country that is a steaming mass of hopelessness, despair and poverty. This is not news.
ShotmanMaslo
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2011
You're posting some Youtube videos of dancing girls and other nonsense to make a point about Russian poverty?


To be fair, Russian economy is indeed doing well under Putin, with quite high per capita growth and low debt.
Nerdyguy
not rated yet Dec 02, 2011
You're posting some Youtube videos of dancing girls and other nonsense to make a point about Russian poverty?


To be fair, Russian economy is indeed doing well under Putin, with quite high per capita growth and low debt.


Really? By what measure? How fat Putin's Swiss bank accounts have gotten?

Certainly not by these measures:

GUARDIAN:
"Millions more Russians shunted into poverty

-Huge rise in number living on less than £110 a month
-Decade of relative wealth under Putin wiped out"

http://www.guardi...se-putin

PRAVDA (YES, THAT PRAVDA, AS IN THE RUSSIAN STATE PAPER):
"The number of impoverished people in Russia has increased by 2.3 million and made up 22.9 million in one year, the Russian Federal Statistics Agency said. "

http://english.pr...ussia-0/

Please stop blowing smoke up all our asses.
FrankHerbert
1 / 5 (5) Dec 02, 2011
America in a nutshell: http://www.youtub...=related
plasticpower
not rated yet Dec 03, 2011
To be fair, Russian economy and living standards have improved a lot since the collapse of the economy in the early 90's and has definitely surpassed the living standards in the former USSR, which weren't all that bad, believe it or not. What they need to do is deal with corruption, which is still just as bad as ever. Until that's fixed, that country is unlikely to make any major strides in modernizing their economy from a producer of raw goods to a "high tech" economy that the Russian government is dreaming of. I would be highly discouraged to start a small business over there if I had to pay off both the mafia and the cops just to keep operating.
Nanobanano
1 / 5 (1) Dec 03, 2011
Those weren't manned missions, but one of them easily could have been...

When you spend $160 million on something, you expect it to work.

Maybe they need a complete re-design on their launch systems.

The U.S. hasn't had a failure in ages, EXCEPT the unfortunate out-dated space shuttle disasters.

I think people in NASA and two branches of the government needed to be fired and even prosecuted after the Columbia disaster, for incompetence and failure to design and maintain the systems...actually, failure to REPLACE a KNOWN faulty launch system, which cost 7 people their lives. Every space shuttle launch since the problem was first discovered can retrospectively be considered to have been suicide mission. The space shuttle should have been canned 10 or 20 years ago.

But that's the point: update the technologies and come up with something more modernized, yet reliable.

To lose a $160 million project and get nothing out of it...
moosefoot
not rated yet Dec 04, 2011
@Nerdyguy "Pravda.ru" is an online tabloid, filled with yellow-journalistic, sensationalistic crap and it is not official by any means. The real Pravda (that is, the successor to the USSR state paper Pravda) is known as "Gazeta Pravda" today and is completely unrelated to "Pravda.ru". But if you want official state-sanctioned news from Russia you ought to check ITAR-TASS or RIA Novosti.

Now, I'm not saying that the figures you quoted are wrong or anything. Just pointing out that Pravda.ru is about as reliable as The Sun (UK). Probably less, to be honest.
Sonhouse
not rated yet Dec 04, 2011
All of the experienced engineers have left Russia a long time ago and are probably now working at NASA or some other organization where they actually get paid to do what they love and aren't expected to meet ridiculous deadlines or fulfill crazy demands under the threats of getting fired.

And now we are using Soyuz rockets to get into space?
Nerdyguy
not rated yet Dec 04, 2011
@Nerdyguy "Pravda.ru" is an online tabloid, filled with yellow-journalistic, sensationalistic crap and it is not official by any means. The real Pravda (that is, the successor to the USSR state paper Pravda) is known as "Gazeta Pravda" today and is completely unrelated to "Pravda.ru". But if you want official state-sanctioned news from Russia you ought to check ITAR-TASS or RIA Novosti.

Now, I'm not saying that the figures you quoted are wrong or anything. Just pointing out that Pravda.ru is about as reliable as The Sun (UK). Probably less, to be honest.


OK, thanks. Didn't know that.
plasticpower
not rated yet Dec 04, 2011

And now we are using Soyuz rockets to get into space?


It should say "FOR now". Because in a few more years we won't be needing those anymore.
Nerdyguy
5 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2011

And now we are using Soyuz rockets to get into space?


It should say "FOR now". Because in a few more years we won't be needing those anymore.


Well, I'd like to just assume that will be the case.

But, having seen the fact that our leadership in this country, including the powers that be at NASA, have allowed our decisive leadership in space exploration dwindle to the point where we can't even put a monkey up safely, let alone a man...well, I'm not so confident.

I'll continue to be cautiously optimistic I guess. And damn excited about private space efforts. That may be what saves our asses.
bluehigh
1 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2011
Damn, I hate to admit when I'm wrong.
- Nerdyguy

Crikey you must hate yourself then.

OK, thanks. Didn't know that.
- Nerdyguy

Yawn. Not much you do know based on evidence. You just assume and spout worthless opinions.

Crikey, I feel sorry for your kids knowing that dad is a gormless jerk that talks total crap most the time.

Wake up to yourself, fool. Ask questions rather than be a pretentious clown.
Nerdyguy
not rated yet Dec 05, 2011
Damn, I hate to admit when I'm wrong.
- Nerdyguy

Crikey you must hate yourself then.

OK, thanks. Didn't know that.
- Nerdyguy

Yawn. Not much you do know based on evidence. You just assume and spout worthless opinions.

Crikey, I feel sorry for your kids knowing that dad is a gormless jerk that talks total crap most the time.

Wake up to yourself, fool. Ask questions rather than be a pretentious clown.


It must be tough to be so filled with hate and rage that you can actually project your anger onto an anonymous stranger via a website comment section. There are both pills and other medical options, like behavior therapy, which can help with this.