Tag Archives: Vostochny

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.

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.

Manager resigns as investigation pinpoints issues during first Vostochny launch

The first head rolls: Even as the investigation into the one day delay for the first Vostochny launch uncovers number of issues, including an incorrectly installed cable, the manager of one division has already resigned.

The problem with a cable made in violation of designer documents delayed the launch of a Soyuz-2.1a rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, the newspaper Izvestia wrote on May 5. “Academician Semikhatov NPO Avtomatiki modeled that situation, saw it with their eyes and certified the results. The rocket’s cable was made in violation of designer documents and lacked a number of vital straps,” a representative of the Roscosmos administration told the newspaper. “Heads of the Yekaterinburg-based NPOA and those responsible for the integrity of methods used in testing the ground control system at the cosmodrome will be definitely held responsible for the contingency,” he said.

They have also found an additional “20 problems”. Expect more heads to roll, which might be a good thing, as it might help fix some of the quality control problems that have become an increasing problem in the Russian aerospace industry.

Problems with nanosat launched from Vostochny

Of the three satellites launched on the first liftoff from Russia’s Vostochny spaceport, the nanosat is having communication problems.

The problem with establishing a radio contact with the SamSat-218D nanosatellite is caused by its fast spinning, TASS the Samara State Aerospace University that designed the spacecraft told TASS on Wednesday. “When the spacecraft was placed into orbit, it started to spin round too quickly. It has a very little mass – less than two kilograms. As a result, its antenna cannot catch the information, the satellite is rotating rapidly,” the source said.

For Russia this nanosat is the first built entirely by college students, something that U.S. students have been doing for years.

Why Russian aerospace will not compete

The fallout from the scrub and one day delay of the first launch at Vostochny, while Vladimir Putin was there and watching, has generated an investigation and the suspension of one designer.

The official goal of the commission was to find causes of the failed launch attempt and to check the completeness of tests leading to the incident.

However given a minor technical impact of the delay, the investigation likely had the primarily political nature, namely it was aimed to demonstrate to the Kremlin that the industry problems were being dealt with. Moreover, Rogozin also made a decision during the work of the commission to suspend the responsibilities of Leonid Shalimov, the designer general at NPO Avtomatika, which supplied the hardware allegedly responsible for the incident. Rogozin summoned Shalimov to Moscow on May 6, apparently to present the results of the investigation. [emphasis mine]

When you develop any new system or cutting edge technology, things are certain to go wrong. This is the one certainty that I will admit to and gladly embrace, and to which good designers, scientists, and engineers all agree. Vostochny is brand new. It stands barely finished. No launch had ever been attempted there before. For there to be a one day delay because of a minor engineering issue is hardly a sign of poor workmanship. Instead, it suggests the people who built it did a reasonably good job, even as many of their managers ripped them and the project off.

What we see here is an industry that is being run not by people who understand the business, but by distant politicians whose only interest is power and control. Can you imagine any manager in Roscosmos anywhere being willing to approve the start of a radical new engineering project, faced with pressure from Putin and these power-hungry politicians in Moscow? It won’t happen. Until there is a change and the politicians let go of their control of this industry, Roscosmos is going to take the safe route every single time.

Nothing new is going to come from Russia’s aerospace industry for a very long time.

Russian court calls for arrest of Vostochny suspects

A Russian court has essentially done what we would call “denying bail” and demanded the arrest of two former Vostochny executives who have been charged with taking bribes during the construction phase of the spaceport.

The court ruled to arrest at least until June 20 the former chief of Spetsstroitekhnologii firm at the Federal Agency for Special Construction, Vladimir Shamailov, and his suspected accomplice Renat Syamiullin. The court agreed with the position in prosecution that staying out of prison the suspects could flee investigation as well as try to destroy the evidence. It is expected that today’s court ruling will be challenged.

First launch from Vostochny a success

The competition heats up: After more than a decade of construction and more than $6 billion, the new Russian spaceport succeeded in its first rocket launch in the early morning hours of April 28, sending three satellites into Earth orbit.

Several news stories have said that Putin was not happy about the one day launch delay due to a computer issue, as well as the one day delay of a Soyuz launch in French Guiana earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, don’t expect any further launches at Vostochny for a long time. The spaceport really isn’t ready for regular operations. This launch was merely a face-saving gesture to disguise the fact that construction is really more than a year behind schedule, not three months.

First Vostochny launch scrubbed at T-1.5

The first launch at Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport yesterday was aborted by its computers at T-1.5 minutes.

The head of Russia’s Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, said the launch was halted automatically due to the glitches of the automated control system. He said the system may be restored in a day. “As usual, the responsibility for what is happening in the space sector rests with those people who are in charge of it and head it,” Komarov added.

I love how governments and their minions always use the word “glitch” when the really haven’t the slightest idea what went wrong.

Regardless, based on their plans to try again tomorrow, I suspect that the problem was relatively simple, related to the computer sensing some parameter that was outside expected tolerances, and easily fixed.

Vostochny’s past and future

Link here. The article provides an excellent overview of the problems at Vostochny as well as it future, even as the new Russian spaceport prepares for its first launch. Two key quotes:

During 2016, reports about mismanagement, non-payment of salaries and corruption persisted despite all the political scandals in 2015 and the Kremlin’s promises to resolve problems. In January, the Izvestiya daily reported the arrest of three leading engineers of the technical oversight directorate in Vostochny in a massive bribery investigation. Around the same time, the total amount of stolen federal funds from Spetsstroi was estimated at nearly 1.4 billion rubles, according to the Izvestiya.

However in February, a Moscow court ordered the release of former head of the Far-Eastern division of Spetsstroi, (known as Dalspetsstroi) Yuri Khrizman from prison to house arrest, apparently after prosecutors had failed to substantiate charges of unlawful spending of more than five billion rubles against him. Khrizman led construction at Vostochny until 2013 and, reportedly, had a reputation for excellence and integrity among his associates and subordinates. Since his arrest, at least one independent publication described the case against Khrizman as a misguided attempt to find a scapegoat in the hopelessly corrupt construction business. [emphasis mine]

And this:

[G]iven likely delays faced by new projects, Vostochny could see little use until the introduction of the launch pad for the Angara rockets, which was not expected until at least 2021.

Why does this all remind me so much of SLS and Orion? Both seem to be gigantic overpriced projects initiated by the government that are so expensive the government itself can’t afford to do much with them? At least in the U.S., we have one saving grace: the amount of corruption is significantly less.

Russia schedules first Vostochny launch

The competition heats up: Roscosmos has scheduled April 27 as the date for the first launch from its new spaceport in Vostochny.

I do wish them luck. I don’t think the Russians will be very successful at competing in the new private launch industry that is beginning to emerge, centered as they are on Soviet-style, top-down, giant government-run organizations, but I still hope they succeed at whatever they attempt in space. As far as I am concerned, the more the merrier.

Russia insures first Vostochny launch

In the heat of competition: Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has obtained insurance for the first launch from Vostochny, covering the rocket and the launch facilities it will use.

This story tells us more about Russia’s present circumstances than the situation at Vostochny. Normally, government space agencies self-insure. Russia, however, is having serious economic problems, and I suspect that the managers there have recognized that if this launch fails and the launchpad is damaged badly, they don’t have the cash to quickly rebuild it. Granted, the insurance itself will probably cost them a lot of money they also don’t have, but considering the significant quality control problems the Russian aerospace industry has had in recent years, combined with the corruption that has surrounded the construction at Vostochny, they are probably wise to cover themselves in the not unlikely chance that something goes wrong.

Further chaos at Vostochny

One week after the Moscow Commercial Court ordered the contractor building the new Russian spaceport Vostochny to repay $52 million in bank loans, that contractor has now filed three lawsuits totaling $17.9 million against the organization that runs the spaceport.

The new lawsuits suggest that even as the contractor’s managers were embezzling millions from the spaceport, the spaceport organization was also pocketing some money that was supposed to go to the contractor.

Russia: a true worker’s paradise!

Vostochny contractor ordered to pay loans

A Moscow court has ordered the main contractor building the Vostochny spaceport to pay back 3.5 billion rubles in debt to its bank.

VTB [the bank] has filed several lawsuits to recover debt from Dalspetsstroy [the contractor]. On February 24, the Moscow Commercial Court granted the bank’s lawsuit seeking 722 million rubles ($11 million) from the company. Another claim for 777 million rubles ($11.5 million) should be considered today.

It was the ex-CEO of this contractor, plus his two sons, who are charged with embezzling over a hundred million rubles from the project.

In related news, this Moscow Times article provides some nice details about Russia’s just approved ten-year plan for its space program. As reported earlier, Russia’s bad economic times has forced them to cut the program to the bone.

Somehow, why do I think that these two stories have so much to do with each other? Could it be that there is some inherent corruption within Russia’s giant government-run aerospace monopoly called Roscosmos that prevents that monopoly from innovating, competing, and doing things efficiently?

Vostochny begins practicing launch procedures

The competition heats up: Dress rehearsals have begun for the first Soyuz rocket launch at Russia’s new spaceport Vostochny, scheduled sometime this spring.

They have not announced an official launch date yet.

If all tests go as scheduled, the launch vehicle will be removed from the launch pad on March 25 and returned to its processing facility for the final assembly with its payloads, including Lomonosov, Aist-2D and Kontakt-Nanosputnik satellites, which will be delivered into orbit during the first mission from Vostochny. The State Commission overseeing the launch will be making decision on the date of the first liftoff based on the results of the tests, the readiness of the launch facilities and the completion of safety measures for the launch personnel, Roskosmos said.

Russia completes investigation into Vostochny embezzlement

The investigation into the corruption during the construction of Russia’s new spaceport Vostochny has been completed, with four Russians to be charged.

It also appears a fifth is on the lam and “has been put on the international wanted list.”

Angara at Vostochny trimmed

Due to cuts in the Russian government’s ten-year plan for aerospace, the number of Angara launchpads at the new Vostochny spaceport has been slashed in half, with construction delayed as well.

On January 20, 2016, Roskosmos officials admitted that budget cuts at the end of 2015 required to drop plans to build one of the two launch pads for Angara rockets in Vostochny. Previously, the Russian space officials claimed that a dual launch complex for the Angara was absolutely necessary to support the four-launch scenario of the lunar expeditions relying on the Angara-5V rocket. The beginning of the construction of the remaining single pad was now delayed from 2016 to 2017.

Based on all the different reports I’ve read, they have also eliminated in the 10-year plan all lunar missions and the construction of a new space station. Essentially, their budget can only barely sustain what they are already doing. Like NASA, they have too large a labor force — jobs maintained for pork barrel reasons rather than actually accomplishing anything — that makes it impossible for them to afford anything new.

Vostochny update suggests further delays and corruption

Government marches on! This detailed update on the status of construction at the new Russian spaceport at Vostochny contains this very revealing quote:

During his year-end press-conference on December 17, Russian president Vladimir Putin expressed hope that the space center would be ready in the first quarter of 2016, however he stressed that there was no need to rush with the completion of the project and that the quality (of the construction) was more important. The lag in schedule had been reduced from as long as 1.5 years to between four and six months, Putin said.

However, an unofficial posting on Russian social media by a local witness claimed that there was no chance for the first launch in April, because all additional funds disbursed by the Kremlin for the project had already been spent or stolen, while most expensive hardware needed for the completion, including some to be imported from China, was yet to be delivered. Such reports were backdropped by continuous publications in the Russian press about corruption and waste plaguing the project. Even the official TASS joined in, disclosing that Spetsstroi had spent a part of the federal funds allocated for the spaceport to develop commercial real estate in the nearby city of Khabarovsk. The Russian Deputy Prime-Minister Dmitry Rogozin vowed to sell these residential properties and return at least part of the money into the budget. [emphasis mine]

I fully expect Vostochny to get built, and its first rocket to launch sometime in 2016. I also expect the corruption and waste that permeates Russian society — much of it resulting from decades of centralized government control during the Soviet era — to make the spaceport far less competitive or useful. The Russians have spend a lot of money here building a spaceport designed for 20th century rockets. Changing this infrastructure to handle new rocket designs is likely to be complicated and expensive.

Russia hints at Vostochny schedule

The competition heats up? Russian sources today suggested that the first unmanned launch from Vostochny will occur on April 25, 2016 (subject to testing) while the first manned flight will occur in 2023

The second story is more significant, as it demonstrates the slow, laborious pace of this government operation. Based on the pace being set by the private companies in the U.S., by 2023 they will be flying regular manned missions from several privately run launch sites, all built quickly with as little cost as possible, with some flights possibly going beyond Earth orbit. Vostochny is expected to cost about $2.9 billion and take more than a decade to complete. The first manned missions will go to ISS only, with the first lunar manned mission not expected until after 2025 (this link also gives some details about the Russian government’s ongoing struggle to establish a 10 year plan for its space program amid continuing and changing budget crises).

The differences here are striking. While the Russian government builds an expensive spaceport built on old technology, Americans will be launching innovative and low-cost rockets that no one has ever seen before. Who do you want to hitch your ride to?

Update on Vostochny delays

RussianSpaceWeb today has posted a good detailed update on the construction status of Vostochny.

The update suggests that the April 12 deadline is not firm. Things could be delayed beyond that date. The update also made no mention of the report that the Soyuz rocket assembly building had been built to the wrong size. This could either mean that the building was built correctly and the report was wrong, or that they are now trying to keep this fact from the press while they scramble to fix it.

Putin delays first launch from Vostochny

During an inspection tour of Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport, Vladimir Putin announced that the first launch should be delayed from December to the spring of 2016.

“We do not need any drumbeating reports, we need high-quality results,” Putin said. “So let us agree: you finish the work related to water supply and wastewater disposal. It is necessary to prepare spaceships for launches. And be ready to carry out the first launches in 2016, somewhere in the spring.” “If you do that before Cosmonautics Day, that will be fine,” the president added.

Cosmonautics Day is the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first spaceflight, April 12, so this is the new deadline Putin is setting. He doesn’t mention anything about the launch assembly building supposedly built to the wrong size.

Vostochny launch building built to the wrong size

Government marches on! The Russians have just discovered that their Soyuz 2 rocket does not fit in the building just finished at their new spaceport at Vostochny.

The cutting-edge facility was meant be ready for launches of Soyuz-2 rockets in December, but an unidentified space agency of a of a told the TASS news agency of a of a late Thursday that the rocket would not fit inside the assembly building where its parts are stacked and tested before launch. The building “has been designed for a different modification of the Soyuz rocket,” the source said, according to news website Medusa, which picked up the story from TASS.

The rocket had just been delivered to Vostochny for assembly, so this report, though unconfirmed at this time, fits well with current events.

First rocket arrives at Vostochny

The competition heats up: The Russians have now delivered to Vostochny the first Soyuz rocket for launch from that spaceport.

The launch is still planned for December, though no one would be surprised if it got delayed.

One minor but interesting thing to note at the link above. The pictures of the train and the containers holding the rocket sections were taken by none other than Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian deputy prime minister whom Putin himself has placed in charge of the construction of Vostochny. This is as if Obama put Biden in charge of NASA’s SLS program, and Biden himself took pictures of some construction event for the news media.

Two more arrests for embezzlement at Vostochny

The Russians today arrested two more individuals for the embezzlement of funds during the construction work at the new spaceport in Vostochny.

The Lyublino district court of Moscow has ruled to take into custody director of the VIP Stroi Engineering company Vadim Mitryakov and former head of the Nizhny Novgorod Volga-Vyatka construction company (VVSK) Yevgenia Degtyareva, suspected of embezzling 300 million rubles ($4.42 million) allocated for the construction of roads to the Vostochny cosmodrome, the court said on Monday. “The court granted the investigation’s request on the measure of restraint for Mitryakov and Degtyareva — arrest for 2 months, i.e. until November 7,” the court’s press service told TASS.

This puts five now under arrest in the case.

Russia delays first manned Vostochny launch seven years

The heat of competition: Russia has finally admitted that it will not be able to fly manned missions from its new Vostochny spaceport in 2018, and had instead rescheduled that first flight for sometime in 2025.

The reasons were not spelled out, and it was unclear if financial considerations were behind the delay.

Space agency spokesman Mikhail Fadeyev made clear the change of plan in stating: ‘The first manned flight from the Vostochny Cosmodrome is scheduled for 2025 with an Angara-AV5 rocket, according to the federal space programme.’ The move reflected the ‘founding principle of Vostochny as an innovative cosmodrome’, he claimed. Under the plan, the first test flight of the Angara-A5B is scheduled for 2023, while the rocket’s first unmanned flight is slated for 2024.

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev recently visited the spaceport, stressing the importance of the first unmanned launch, due in four months from now, being a success. His statement appeared to allow for the possibility of slippage in this timetable also.

Vostochny was first proposed in 2007, so that means it will take Russia almost two decades to get this spaceport ready for manned flights. Only a government operation, designed to create jobs instead of accomplishing something, takes such an ungodly long time to get finished.

Meanwhile, Russia will continue to use Baikonur for manned flight for at least one more decade.

The mobile launch building at Vostochny

At their new spaceport at Vostochny, the Russians are building a moveable launch building that will enclose their Soyuz rockets prior to launch.

Painted in elegant blue and white and standing almost 50 meters high, the Mobile Service Tower, MBO (for Mobilnaya Bashnya Obsluzhivaniya), is designed to provide personnel access to the Soyuz rocket during the countdown to liftoff from its launch pad in Vostochny. The structure can be also used to service the pad after launch and to process the rocket in case of an aborted liftoff.

With the tower in place, technicians can easily reach practically any part of the rocket as high as 37 meters above the surface of the launch pad. Internal access bridges of the tower surround the upper portion of the first and second stage, the third stage and the payload fairing.

The article also notes that “for decades, Soviet soldiers and officers and later their Russian civilian successors had to brave winter cold and summer heat preparing Soyuz rockets for launch on open-air gantries in Baikonur and Plesetsk. But in a sign how times have changed, the new generation of rocketeers will be protected from snow and rain with a climate-controlled tower completely enclosing the Soyuz rocket before liftoff from its newest launch pad at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome.”

The irony here is profound. Big moveable buildings is how NASA has been doing it since Apollo. It is also what Boeing’s Delta family of rockets uses at Vandenberg in California. It is also why the Saturn 5 was and the Delta is so expensive to launch.

SpaceX abandoned such complicated structures in designing its Falcon 9, and instead decided to copy the old Soviet method of simple buildings for horizontal assembly and the simple horizontal transport to the launchpad. This appears to save a lot of money while simplifying rocket assembly.

That the Russians are now copying NASA’s more expensive but fancy mobile building approach means that, once again, their government is making decisions not based on efficiency but the prestige their political decisions can give them. From a competitive perspective, this is not going to benefit the Russia space effort, in the slightest.

But their workers will be more comfortable while they assembly those rockets!

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