Russian space official resigns after failed launch

August 16, 2012

(AP) — The head of Russia's leading rocket manufacturer has stepped down after a failed launch, the nation's space chief said Thusrday.

A Proton booster rocket failed to place two communications satellites into target orbits after its Aug. 6 launch, the latest in a long series of recent mishaps that has hurt the nation's pride in its space program.

Vladimir Popovkin, the director of national space agency Roskosmos, said that Vladimir Nesterov, the head of the state-controlled Khrunichev company that builds Proton rockets, submitted his resignation.

"We have no lifetime jobs here; we are going to reshuffle our personnel," Popovkin said.

Popovkin said that an official investigation into the failed launch has determined that it was caused by a faulty pipe in the rocket's Briz-M upper stage.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that Russia had seven failed launches in the past 1 1/2 years, resulting in the loss of 10 satellites. He added the high rate of failure marked a "colossal difference with other leading space powers."

Russia's space officials have blamed the failures on manufacturing flaws and engineering mistakes. Observers say that the decline of a once-proud space program is rooted in a post-Soviet industrial meltdown that has stymied its modernization. Despite a steady increase of funding in recent years thanks to oil revenues, Russia's space industries continue to rely on outdated equipment and an aging workforce, and quality standards have deteriorated.

Popovkin said his agency would continue its effort to improve production quality by placing its inspectors at rocket factories and subcontractors.

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1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2012
Hopefully this will get them back into gear. I know my company is now very hesitant to launch with Proton because of these launch failures. Falcon 9 is now preferred over Proton.
not rated yet Aug 16, 2012
Even if this does spur the companies involved to make changes, it will take years for them to repair equipment into good working order and retrain staff in proper procedures. It won't happen overnight.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2012
I just like, how the apparently fired people are claimed "submitting their resignation". Anyway, Nesterov is an old chap already (63 years), he has nothing to worry about. The labour pension age in Russia is low: 55 for women, 60 for men.
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2012
@ JustChris:

As they say, "What are you smoking?" =D Inspectors means more of the same bureaucracy, not an improvement of the manufacturing quality by modernization.

The money had been better spent on wages and education, to prepare for a renewal of the industry sometime in the future. This will only get worse before its get better, because the old guard remains set in its ways.

You could say that as a short term solution they had no other choice. But they don't seem (at least what we can see here) propose a long term solution.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
Maybe they can hire Falcon 9 or Delta transports in the U.S....
not rated yet Aug 17, 2012
Lurker: Delta rockets are excellent, but very expensive. And Falcon 9 has a pretty long backlog right now. Once SpaceX gets their manufacturing process up to speed I'm sure more companies will be willing to go to them. But right now I'd be worried. MDA, for instance, has been trying to get its CASSIOPE sat in orbit for years now. It was last previously delayed until 2011, then early 2012, now late 2012, possibly 2013. MDA has to pay substantial clean storage fees while their sat sits there and slowly decays.

If I were a company planning to launch in the next year or two, I'd be taking that into account. Five years into the future, sure. But for now SpaceX doesn't seem to be able to handle any more customers than it already has.

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