Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
This update on the launch failure at Vostochny last week suggests there are some very serious problems permeating the entire Russian aerospace industry.
According to a post on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine, the Fregat stage for the ill-fated first mission from Vostochny was originally built for the launch of the Rezonans scientific satellites from Baikonur.
At the same time, experts agree that the problem could theoretically have been resolved before launch, if not for the poor coordination between the developers of the flight control systems of the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle and their colleagues working on flight controls for the Fregat. As one poster on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki forum noted: in the deluge of pre-launch paperwork between RKTs Progress in Samara, which built Soyuz-2, and NPO Lavochkin, which developed Fregat, discussing a multitude of legal issues, confirming and reconfirming various agreements and reminders, there was not a single memo attracting the developers’ attention to a different alignment of the launch pad in Vostochny from that of other sites. Obviously, such information was buried in the working documentation on the mission, but nobody thought about the effect of this fact on the launch. The lower echelon of engineers simply missed that detail, while top managers had no idea at all, because, the majority of them lacked the necessary qualifications, the poster said. [emphasis mine]
Top managers who “lack the necessary qualifications?” This smacks of a corrupt hiring system having nothing to do with qualifications or the need to do good work. It also is typical of a government-run operation, which the entire Russian aerospace industry is after Putin consolidated it all into one single cooperation under government control in 2014. And prior to that the big Russian companies didn’t really operate under a system of free competition, but like mob gangsters they divided up the work among themselves and then worked together to prevent any new competition from forming.
I’m not sure how Russia is going to fix this. In a free market the solution would be for competition to produce new companies with fresh ideas, forcing the bad companies out of business. Putin’s consolidation combined with a Russian culture that does not seem to understand the idea of competition appear to make that process difficult, if not impossible.