Tag Archives: Russia

More budget cuts to Russia’s space program

The head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, revealed today that there will be significant additional cuts to the country’s space program in the coming months.

These cuts come on top of the almost one-third cuts imposed from the time the budget for the ten-year plan was first proposed in 2015 and its adoption early this year.

Russia completes preliminary design for Progress replacement

The competition heats up: Russian engineers have completed their preliminary design for a proposed Progress replacement, first revealed August 22.

The main rationale for the development of the new cargo ship was the urgent need to reduce the number of cargo launches to the ISS from four to three annually, while still supporting three crew members on the Russian segment of the station.

The preliminary design for the new cargo ship was originally to be completed in December 2016, but the work was apparently sped up to be completed in August of the same year. Still, even if the go ahead for the full-scale development of the project was given immediately, the new cargo ship was not expected to fly before 2020. In the meantime, the Russian crew onboard the ISS could be reduced from three to two people beginning in March 2017 onward, with the exception of a time period in 2018, when Russian cosmonauts would have to conduct spacewalks to outfit the newly arrived MLM module.

The new design, radically different from Russia’s present Soyuz and Progress capsules, would be able to place 8.2 tons in orbit, one ton more than Progress. That the Russians accelerated the design process suggests to me that they are putting a high priority on this project, and that they will build it.

New delays for Angara

Because of budget constraints Russia has been forced to delay by at least a year the construction of the launchpad facilities at Vostochny for their new Angara family of rockets.

Angara’s first test flights from Vostochny will now not happen before 2021. It seems to me that by the time they get this rocket off the ground it will already be obsolete.

Russian hackers attack US election systems

What, me worry? Russian hackers attempted and were partly successful in June in accessing the election databases of Arizona and Illinois.

Hackers targeted voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona, and the FBI alerted Arizona officials in June that Russians were behind the assault on the election system in that state. The bureau described the threat as “credible” and significant, “an eight on a scale of one to 10,” Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan (R), said Monday. As a result, Reagan shut down the state’s voter registration system for nearly a week.

It turned out that the hackers had not compromised the state system or even any county system. They had, however, stolen the username and password of a single election official in Gila County.

The article describes in detail the overall bad situation, including a number of additional attacks as well as the poor security surrounding the online voting option that more than 30 states use.

As usual, we are being told not to worry by the responsible government officials:

Tom Hicks, chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, an agency set up by Congress after the 2000 Florida recount to maintain election integrity, said he is confident that states have sufficient safeguards in place to ward off attempts to ma­nipu­la­te data. For example, if a voter’s name were deleted and did not show up on the precinct list, the individual could still cast a provisional ballot, Hicks said. Once the voter’s status was confirmed, the ballot would be counted. Hicks also said the actual systems used to cast votes “are not hooked up to the Internet” and so “there’s not going to be any ma­nipu­la­tion of data.” However, more than 30 states have some provisions for online voting, primarily for voters living overseas or serving in the military.

Hicks has made me feel so much better!

Russia reveals its proposed new cargo spacecraft

Government vaporware: In an effort to save money Russian engineers have designed a new cargo spacecraft to replace the Progress freighter.

Faced with latest economic problems, and the need to reduce the number of Progress cargo launches, Russia’s space agency Roskosmos made plans to cut the permanent crew of ISS cosmonauts from three to two people. However the full international crew on the ISS is supposed to include six people with half of it reserved for Russia.

To resolve this supply problem, Roskosmos ordered RKK Energia, its key contractor responsible for human spaceflight, to prepare a preliminary design of a bigger cargo ship by the end of this month. Engineers quickly put together this proposal that would combine off-the-shelf hardware with new technology. … The most important new feature of the proposed cargo ship will be the six-tank cluster to carry more than 1.8 tons of propellant to the station. It will simultaneously serve as a tanker for the space station while also feeding the ship’s own propulsion system. As a result, the new design provides significant mass savings in comparison to the current Progress ships, which need two separate sets of tanks for refueling and maneuvering.

The main engine for the new cargo ship will be borrowed from an existing satellite. Meanwhile, 28 small thrusters for orbit correction and maneuvering will be copied practically unchanged from the Progress.

They hope to fly this new freighter by 2020. I’m willing to bet anyone that this won’t happen.

Russia announces it is building “a super-heavy-class rocket”

Government vaporware: Roscomos announced today that it has started design work on “a super-heavy-class rocket” that it plans to launch in 5 to 7 years.

And if you really believe this rocket will launch by 2023 I have this great bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

Russia-Boeing settlement in Sea Launch dispute?

According to one Russian news source, Russia has negotiated a settlement with Boeing over their Sea Launch dispute.

Russia says it has a possible buyer of Sea Launch, but they can’t sell it because the floating launchpad is in the U.S. and Boeing has gone to court to block the sale until Russia pays them the $300 million it owes them.

Russia’s space station faces funding problems

The Russian space station replacement for ISS, dubbed the Russian Orbital Station (ROS), faces serious budget problems that might delay its launch.

Plans for the post-ISS Russian Orbital Station, ROS, are in limbo, as the nation’s space program has faced budget cuts in 2016. Although the industry has now completed formulating the overall design of the future station, the cash-strapped Roskosmos was yet to approve the formal technical assignment for the development of ROS as of June 2016. The addendum to the Federal Contract, which would fund further development work on the project, has not been issued either.

The ROS project stalled despite being formally approved by three strategy documents governing the current Russian space program: The 10-year Federal Space Program from 2016 to 2025, known as FKP-2025; The Strategy for Russian Piloted Space Flight until 2035 and the Concept of the Russian Piloted Space Flight.

The article also provides a nice overview of how Russia hopes to assembly ROS, partly from new modules and partly from modules they will detach from ISS. The article also made this key point:

According to the current ROS concept, the new Russian station will have a truly unlimited life span, thanks to the possibility to replace any of its modules. (It is practically impossible with the current ISS architecture.) The new Russian station is also designed to operate either as a permanently inhabited outpost or as a periodically visited facility. Russian strategists also hope that the new station will inherit the international nature of the ISS project.

I think Russia is beginning to see the operation of Earth orbital space stations as a profitable niche they can occupy. They know how to do it and already have the technology on hand, and can do it at very affordable prices. Whether they can afford it themselves, however, remains an open question.

The landing site for ExoMars’ Schiaparelli lander

This ESA press release provides a nice overview of the landing area that the Schiaparelli lander on ExoMars is targeting.

The landing ellipse, measuring 100 x 15 km, is located close to the equator, in the southern highlands of Mars. The region was chosen based on its relatively flat and smooth characteristics, as indicated in the topography map, in order to satisfy landing safety requirements for Schiaparelli. NASA’s Opportunity rover also landed within this ellipse near Endurance crater in Meridiani Planum, in 2004, and has been exploring the 22 km-wide Endeavour crater for the last five years. Endeavour lies just outside the south-eastern extent of Schiaparelli’s landing ellipse.

Since the primary missions of both Schiaparelli and the ExoMars orbiter, dubbed the Trace Gas Orbiter, is test the technology for getting to and landing on Mars (in preparation for the more challenging 2020 ExoMars mission), I suspect that they chose this very well studied and already visited area to make this test landing less risky.

Side note: ExoMars successfully completed its second and last planned mid-course correction yesterday in preparation for its October arrival at Mars.

Russia considers reducing its ISS crew

In the heat of competition: Russia is considering reducing its ISS crew from three to two.

“Plans to reduce the crew stem from the fact that less cargo ships are sent to the ISS and from the necessity to boost the efficiency of the program,” the newspaper quotes Krikalev. Apart from that, it will make it possible to lower expenses on the space station’s maintenance.

They haven’t yet made a decision. I suspect that the real reason they are considering this idea is because it will free up a seat on the Soyuz spacecraft that they can then sell to tourists, something they have been unable to do since the station got large enough for the full crew of six and the U.S. became dependent on them for crew ferrying.. By only sending two Russians astronauts up with each Soyuz launch they will then have a free seat for short tourist flights, which had been quite lucrative for them.

Angara gets a customer

The competition heats up: Russia has signed its first international contract for its new still-underdevelopment Angara rocket.

Leading Russian rocket developer, GKNPTs Khrunichev, signed up the first foreign commercial passenger for the light version of its new-generation Angara rocket. The South-Korean Kompsat-6 remote-sensing satellite (a.k.a. Arirang) was booked for a ride on the Angara-1.2 launch vehicle from Plesetsk around 2020. Equipped with a Synthetic Aperture Radar, SAR, the 1.7 ton spacecraft should be inserted into the Sun-synchronous orbit.

More here.

Russia’s troubled new spaceport

Link here. The article provides a nice summary of the many problems I have posted here on Behind the Black over the past three years, describing the corruption, cost overruns, and delays that have dominated the construction of Russia’s Vostochny spaceport.

I think this excerpt encapsulates the project’s basic problem:

Andrei Ionin of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, who helped draw up the original plans for Vostochny, said the idea was for the facility to boost the economy of the depressed Far East region. “It should have become an innovation cluster … with a smart city to attract bright young specialists,” Ionin said. Instead, the accompanying “innovation hub” was built near Moscow, and according to Oberg, only a skeleton crew is posted to Svobodny, the town that serves the spaceport.

“The original idea was botched,” Ionin said. He added that the project now has “no meaning” and is “like a fifth wheel in the Russian space program.”

The goal was not to improve efficiency or save costs, but to fulfill the idealistic hopes of a central planner whose plans were essentially very much divorced from reality. Meanwhile, the corruption that permeates all of Russian’s big industries honed in on this project as a great way to skim off a lot of cash for their personal bank accounts.

According to an expose by RBC published in July 2015, the original cost of the facility was supposed to be just $1.9 billion in today’s prices. Already, though, the cost of building the first of two launch pads has exceeded $2.4 billion, according data on dozens of state contracts compiled by RBC. Officials did not release an official budget for the spaceport before construction began in 2011.

Russian anti-graft activists allege that much of this overspend can be attributed to corruption. They say that, like many other Russian mega-projects, it has become a gravy train for well-connected embezzlers. “There are a lot of corruption violations,” said Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at the grassroots non-governmental organization the Anti-Corruption Fund. Sobol, who published an exposé on cost overruns at Vostochny last year, added: “The construction is overpriced by billions of rubles.”

Russian prosecutors say that least $165 million was embezzled during the construction process and several contractors have been charged. “I doubt the full extent [of the embezzlement] has been publicized,” said veteran American journalist and historian James Oberg, an expert on the Russian space program.

It will be especially revealing to compare Vostochny’s cost and development time with the spaceport that SpaceX is privately building in Texas. Which do you think will cost less and be fully operational first? I think I know.

ExoMars successfully completes long mid-course burn

ExoMars 2016, the European/Russia orbiter/lander mission on its way to Mars, successfully completed a 52 minute mid-course engine burn today in preparation for its October 19th arrival at Mars.

Officially known as the deep-space maneuver, DSM, it was the longest engine burn for the ExoMars-2016 mission before the Mars orbit insertion on October 19, 2016. As a result of the July 28 orbit correction, the spacecraft will need less propellant during its maneuvers in the vicinity of the planet and the Schiaparelli lander will experience slightly less thermal loads during its planned entry into the Martian atmosphere.

Want to get a close look at the Russian spaceport during a launch? You can!

The space tourism company that has partnered with the Russians to fly tourists to ISS is now offering a nine-day tour of Russia’s launch facilities, including watching a Soyuz manned launch for the bargain price of $14,495.

Guests will get to see the launch of the Soyuz spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station and experience the live Soyuz-International Space Station docking at Mission Control Center. “We will observe the early morning roll-out of the Soyuz Rocket and follow it to the launch pad site together with the press, military personnel, cosmonauts, and their relatives,” said MIR Corporation President Douglas Grimes. “The following day we will gather in a VIP seating gallery at Mission Control Center for the live satellite feed of the Soyuz docking.”

Guests also have the option to participate in cosmonaut training themselves: They can experience up to 4 Gs on the world’s largest centrifuge, take a parabolic zero-G simulation flight, don a spacesuit, and learn how to handle “typical space tasks.”

Angara’s status

The competition heats up: Work on the factories that will build and assembly Russia’s new Angara rocket appear to be nearing completion.

The article is an excellent overview of the entire Angara program. It also includes a number of interesting nuggets of information that might explain events of the past as well as Russia’s future success or failure of Angara.

For example, the repeated problems with Proton’s Briz-M upper station in 2012 could have been caused by the shift of much of its production from the Khrunichev factories near Moscow to a newly absorbed company located in Siberia. The move was made to take advantage of lower costs in Siberia while letting the company sell off land in Moscow.

Beginning in 2009, PO Polyot was to take responsibility for the production of the Briz-KM upper stage for the Rockot booster, as well as Rockot’s adapter rings and the payload fairings. Also, the manufacturing of all key elements for the Angara-1.2 version of the rocket would end up in Omsk as well. Additionally, the Ust-Katav Wagon-building Plant, UKVZ, would produce components for Angara and its KVTK upper stage, along with sections of the Proton rocket and the Briz-M upper stage.

As for Angara, the article suggests that Russia is struggling to make it as inexpensive to launch as Proton:
» Read more

Upgraded Soyuz capsule launches three astronauts to ISS

The competition heats up: An upgraded manned capsule, dubbed Soyuz-MS, successfully reached orbit today, carrying a new three person crew to ISS.

As part of the vehicle’s checkout during its first manned flight they have decided to fly it on the older two-day rendezvous approach rather than the fast six hour route.

Russia looks to develop reusable first stage

The competition heats up: Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has reactivated the design team for developing a reusable first stage with wings that would return to a runway like an airplane.

They have put in charge of the project the designer of Buran, their Soviet-era space shuttle, and are trying to reassemble his team for this work.

With Russia, proposals like this should only be taken seriously when they actually start test flights.Too often the Russian government,.like NASA here, announces big plans, but fails to figure out how to build anything at a cost anyone can afford.

A Russian space station spun off from ISS?

The competition heats up: Energia, Russia’s main contractor for building its part of ISS, has proposed a plan to separate the Russian modules from ISS, once they are finally launched, to create a new and solely Russian space station.

According to RKK Energia, the prime Russian contractor on the ISS, the new outpost would begin with the separation of the Nauka [Russia’s ISS science module, long delayed] from the rest of the old station in mid-2020s. By that time, Nauka should have two even newer modules in tow. One would be the so-called Node Module, a tinker-toy-like component that could connect to six other modules, crew ships, cargo tankers, structural elements, you name it. The Node Module is already in RKK Energia’s garage and ready to go within a few months after the Nauka.

Next would be the new Science and Power Module (NEM) which, as it name implies, will finally give cosmonauts a state-of-the-art science lab and a pair of large solar arrays, making the Russian segment fully independent from the rest of the ISS in terms of power, communications, and other resources. The launch of NEM, currently promised as early as 2019, would set the stage for these three components to leave the ISS to form ROS.

Russia has always given itself the option to do this, designing its part of the station in a way that would allow it to stand alone.

Russia looks to reduce Proton launch costs

The competition heats up: Russian officials are considering developing a new variant of the Proton rocket that would cost less to launch and thus make the rocket more desirable in the increasingly competitive launch market.

They have not made a decision yet. As the article notes,

[G]iven the extended length of time required for even less radical upgrades of Proton and the official Russian strategy to phase out the vehicle in favor of Angara-5, it is unclear whether it would be possible to justify the Proton-Light development effort. A number of previous proposals to change the shape and size of the Proton-M rocket were deemed too expensive more than a decade earlier in the rocket’s operational career.

Russia in perspective

The coming dark age: This column today attempts to put the present economic shape of Russia into context with the rest of the world. Russia does not come off well.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s most recent data, the Russian economy is approximately the same size as Australia and slightly smaller than South Korea. As an exporter, it is now less important than Belgium, Mexico, and Singapore. And it is poor. The World Bank ranks Russia’s GDP per capita below Lithuania, Equatorial Guinea, and Kazakhstan. A larger proportion of its population lives below the poverty rate than in Indonesia, India, or Sri Lanka. It is ranked 67th in the world in the Global Competitive Index and 66th in the UN’s Human Development Index.

I find this news very disturbing and worrisome. As much as I might consider Russia a competitor to the U.S., I also want it as a nation to thrive, because otherwise it can only be a threat to the rest of the world. If Russia can’t figure out how to be a successful, competitive, and vigorous first world capitalist nation, it can only become something none of us will like. These are the same circumstances that made the rise of Hitler and Mussolini possible.

Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about Russia’s ability to turn things around. When they had the chance after the fall of the Soviet Union, instead of encouraging free competition, the people who remained in power divided the country and its industries up like Prohibition-era gangsters, and stamped out anyone who tried to move in on their territories with new ideas. Those people remain in power, and have acted to further consolidate their power by recreating the Soviet model of centralized control from the top-down.

Posted from Los Angeles Airport, a place where a tiny pre-made sandwich costs almost $15, probably because of high California taxes and regulations.

Russia plans 12 person lunar base by 2030

The competition heats up? Russia has announced plans to build a 12-person lunar base by 2030.

Color me skeptical. Since the late 1990s I have been reading these stories about ambitious Russian space plans, none of which has ever happened. In fact, they all remind me of the dozens of ambitious space plans announced by NASA over the years, none of which ever happened either. Typical of big government projects, they end up on the scrapeheap because government can’t do things quickly or efficiently.

Russia’s continuing weakness in space

In the heat of competition: Russia this week announced new space agreements with both China and Europe.

The first describes a deal whereby Europe will pay Russia to use its Bion capsules to launch life science experiments. In addition, the article notes that Europe will continue its agreement with Russia to launch commercial Soyuz rockets from its Arianespace launchpad in French Guiana.

The second and third stories describe a variety of negotiations between Russia and China, whereby the two countries will work together in a number of ways, including the possibiliity that China will buy the same Russian rocket engine that ULA uses in its Atlas 5 rocket as well as maybe jointly build a heavy lift rocket with Russia. In the second article, Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, in touting the excellence of the Russian rocket engine, could not help taunting the United States.
» Read more

Russia negotiating with Australian investors to buy SeaLaunch

The competition heats up: Roscosmos revealed today that Russia is negotiating with investors in Australia to buy SeaLaunch.

I’m not sure how seriously we can take this announcement. The sale still has a lot of problems for any investors. Boeing is owed a lot of money by the SeaLaunch partners, specifically Russia, and the SeaLaunch floating launchpad is docked in the U.S. where they can hold it as collateral

Russian robot escapes!

A robot being tested by Russian engineers ended up on its own on a public street, baffling passersby and traffic.

“The robot was learning automatic movement algorithms on the testing ground, these functions will feature in the latest version of the Promobot.” The co-founder of the robot’s maker, Oleg Kivokurtsev, told ura.ru news agency. “Our engineer drove onto the testing ground and forgot to close the gates. So the robot escaped and went on his little adventure.” Kivokurtsev explained.

The team only noticed their brainchild was missing 45 minutes into the robot’s travel stint and by the time they located it, there was already a crowd of puzzled citizens and the police had arrived.

I have a suspicion that this was not really an accident, but instead a publicity stunt, but have no way to confirm this suspicion.

Another Russian rocket, the Proton this time, has underperformed

For reasons that are not yet clear, either the first or the second stage of Russia’s Proton, launched today, underperformed, requiring the Breeze-M upper stage to compensate in order to get the commercial satellite into the proper orbit.

This is the same thing that happened on the last Soyuz rocket launch, with no explanation as yet either.

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