Tag Archives: Proton

Russians slash their launch prices by 39%

Capitalism in space: Having lost their entire commercial market share because of SpaceX’s lower prices, the Russians have finally decided to slash their launch prices by 39%.

As the article notes, the cost for a Proton rocket launch was once $100 million. Then SpaceX came along with a $60 million pricetag. At first the Russians poo-pooed this, and did nothing. When their customers started to vanish however they decided to finally compete, so a year ago they cut the Proton price to match SpaceX’s.

Because of SpaceX’s ability to reuse its first stages, however, that $60 million price no longer worked. SpaceX had a year earlier lowered its prices even more, to $50 million, for launches with used first stages.

This new price slash by Roscosmos probably brings their price down to about $36 million, and thus beats SpaceX.

We shall see whether it will attract new customers. It definitely is now cheaper, but it is also less reliable. Russia continues to have serious quality control problems at its manufacturing level.

That SpaceX’s arrival forced a drop in the price of a launch from $100 million to less than $40 million illustrates the beautiful value of freedom and competition. The change is even more spectacular when you consider that ULA, the dominant American launch company before SpaceX, had been charging between $200 to $400 million per launch. For decades the Russians, ULA, and Arianespace refused to compete, working instead as a cartel to keep costs high.

SpaceX has ended this corrupt practice. We now have a competitive launch industry, and the result is that the exploration of the solar system is finally becoming a real possibility.

Correction: I originally called ULA “the only American launch company before SpaceX.” This was not correct, as Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, was also launching satellites. It just was a very minor player, with little impact. It was also excluded from the military’s EELV program, and thus could not launch payloads for them after around 2005.

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Russians find serious problems with three Proton rockets

As a result of a new quality control inspection system, the Russians have discovered that three Proton rockets delivered for launch had serious issues, and have sent them back to the manufacturer.

Three Proton-M heavy-lift launch vehicles designated for launching satellites from the Baikonur Cosmodrome will be returned to the Khrunichev rocket manufacturer in Moscow so that low-quality parts can be replaced, a source in the space and rocket industry has told Sputnik.

The defective parts, believed to have been manufactured between 2015 and 2016, were said to have been discovered last month due to checks under a new quality control system introduced by Roscosmos. “Having analyzed the situation, experts came to the conclusion that the replacement of the [faulty] components on the three Proton-M rockets located at Baikonur could only be done at the factory,” the source said.

Two of the rockets have already been loaded up onto a train and sent back, with the remaining rocket to be sent back at a later date.

This is a follow-up on the March 11th story where they had discovered “mismatched” parts on a Proton. They have also had to replace an entire stage on a Soyuz due a malfunction detected prior to launch.

While it is excellent news that the Russians are now catching these issues before launch, that they continue to have such problems at the manufacturing level is not good.

Their problem is that in Russia they do not permit competition. The government works hand-in-glove with the established players to lock out new companies. Thus, no natural mechanism exists to weed out bad operations. They are trying to do it with tighter inspections, but in the end, that just adds cost and slows operations.

Meanwhile, in a related story, the manufacturer of Soyuz rockets has suspended operations because of fear of the Wuhan virus. The suspension probably makes some sense, as they have a lot of rockets (52) already built.

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Russia delays first 2020 Proton launch due to “component mismatch”

Russian officials yesterday announced that they are delaying the first Proton launch in 2020 from March to May in order to replace components that during tests were found to be “mismatched.”

According to [Khrunichev Space Center Director General Alexei] Varochko, quality control tests revealed mismatch of one of the components’ parameters. “In order to ensure proper serviceability and guarantee the implementation of the Khrunichev Center’s liabilities, it was decided to replace the components set, including in the Proton-M carrier rocket, which is kept at the Baikonur space center, to put Express satellites into orbit,” he said.

Nor are they having issues only with their Proton rocket. Two days ago they announced a one month delay of a Soyuz rocket, set for launch for Arianespace, because of “an off-nominal malfunction … on a circuit board” in the Freget-M upper stage. Rather than replace the component, they have decided to replace the entire stage

Proton is built by the Khrunichev facility. Freget-M is built by the Lavochkin facility. For both to have issues like this suggests once again that Russia’s aerospace industry continues to have serious quality control problems in its manufacturing processes. The one bright spot is that they are at least finding out about the problems prior to launch.

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Russia’s Proton launches weather satellite

Russia today used the Proton-M version of their Proton rocket to place a geosynchronous weather satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

31 China
21 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 31 to 27 in the national rankings.

Right now there are only two more launches scheduled for 2019, a Russian Rockot launch and China’s third launch of its big Long March 5 rocket. Look for my global launch report for 2019 soon after the New Year.

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Rocket Lab announces new upper stage for taking satellites beyond Earth orbit

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday unveiled plans for a new upper stage to their Electron rocket that will allow them to send satellites to lunar orbit.

Rocket Lab will combine its Electron launch vehicle, Photon small spacecraft platform, and a dedicated bulk maneuver stage to accomplish extended-range missions and deliver small spacecraft to lunar flyby, Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), L1/L2 points, or Lunar orbit. These capabilities can then be expanded to deliver even larger payloads throughout cis-lunar space, including as high as geostationary orbit (GEO).

The satellites involved here would all be very small cubesats, but since these small satellites are increasingly becoming the satellite of choice for unmanned missions Rocket Lab’s timing here I think is excellent. They are putting themselves in position to garner this new market share.

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Proton flies last commercial mission

Scheduled for retirement by Russia and having its entire commercial business taken by SpaceX, Russia’s Proton rocket today successfully launched its last commercial mission.

The primary payload was a European communications satellite. The secondary payload is more significant as it is Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), designed to grab defunct satellites that are out of fuel and bring them back to life using its own fuel and engines.

The docking mechanism of the MEV spacecraft allows it to link up with a spacecraft which carries no specialized rendezvous and docking hardware. According to Northrop Grumman, MEV, can use its proximity sensors and docking hardware to reliably attach itself to 80 percent of typical satellites deployed in geostationary orbit. The developer also said that after completing the work assisting the first spacecraft, the MEV vehicle could be undocked and moved multiple times during its more than 15-year operational life span to support satellites from other customers.

They plan to revive one of Intelsat’s satellites and operate it for five years.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

19 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. and China remain tied at 19 in the national rankings.

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Proton commercial launch delayed

One of the last few commercial launches for Russia’s Proton rocket has been delayed because the satellite “was not attached correctly to the upper stage.”

This is likely not as serious a blunder as the story makes it sounds. They had detected some “electromagnetic interference” in the upper stage’s control system during prechecks, which suggests a wire got crossed somewhere.

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Proton launches military communications satellite

A Russian Proton rocket today successfully launched a military communications satellite into orbit.

This was the third Proton launch this year, the most since 2017. It also put Russia in the lead for most launches in 2019, the first time that country has been in first since 2015:

12 Russia
11 China
9 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. still leads Russia in the national rankings, 15-12.

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Russia successfully launches Spektr-RG carrying two X-ray space telescopes

Russia today successfully used its Proton rocket to launch Spektr-RG, carrying two X-ray space telescopes.

Spektr-RG was first conceived in the 1990s, but got shelved then because Russia did not have the money to launch it. The project got revived in 2005 when the Germans came on to build one of the two telescopes.

“We had an ambitious plan for the project which didn’t correspond to the power of the country of that moment,” [lead scientist Mikhail] Pavlinsky told Spaceflight Now. “We decided to restart it with a smaller version.”

The Russian and German space agencies signed an agreement in 2009 to jointly develop the Spektr-RG mission, but the project faced additional schedule delays due to technical problems and a decision to switch the observatory from a Zenit launcher to a Proton rocket.

Designers also changed Spektr-RG’s observing location from an orbit around Earth to a looping trajectory around the L2 Lagrange point.

Spektr-RG is the largest Russian astronomy satellite to launch since the Spektr-R radio observatory in 2011. Spektr-R stopped responding to commands from the ground in January after exceeding its planned five-year mission lifetime, and Russian officials declared the mission over in April.

Spektr-RG’s planned mission is set for seven years.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

9 China
8 SpaceX
8 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China in the national rankings 14 to 9.

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Battery screw-up delays Russian X-Ray telescope launch

The Russians this morning postponed today’s launch of the Spectr-RG X-Ray space telescope until July when it was discovered that one of the payload’s batteries had been drained prematurely.

[T]he Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid reported from Baikonur that the problem had been discovered at least a day earlier, but the entire project team at the launch site was kept in the dark until the launch date, not to interfere with Vladimir Putin’s annual press-conference.

According to the paper, the battery was accidentally activated on the launch pad instead of the planned moment after the separation of the spacecraft from the Block DM-03 upper stage. The error was blamed on the erroneous wiring setup by RKK Energia specialists (Block DM-03 prime contractor) between the upper stage and the spacecraft, which caused a complete drainage of the battery designed to be re-charged from solar panels. After the return of the rocket to the vehicle assembly building, the battery would have to be re-charged and the power-supply system re-wired, Moskovsky Komsomolets said. [emphasis mine]

If this report is true, it appears that the Russian government has done nothing to fix the quality control programs in its aerospace industry, and in fact is helping to contribute to them by playing games with launch procedures for the sake of its own public relations.

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Two more commercial Proton launches later this year

According to Russian officials, they will have two more commercial launches later this year using their workhorse Proton rocket.

They made this statement at the Paris Air Show yesterday. However, the story did not specific who the customers were, which I find puzzling.

They will use the Proton to launch Russia’s first space telescope in decades later this week. If successful, and if the two other launches occur, that would be the most Proton launches in a year since 2017.

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Russian Proton rocket launches Russian communications satellite

In its first launch in 2019, a Russian Proton rocket today successfully placed a French-built Russian communications satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

7 China
6 SpaceX
5 Russia
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 India

The U.S. continues to lead China 11 to 7 in the national rankings.

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Russia cuts Proton price to match SpaceX

Capitalism in space: Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, yesterday said that Russia will cut costs so that the price they charge for a Proton launch will match SpaceX.

Russia is struggling to regain its Proton customer base after the launch failures of the past few years. I don’t think matching SpaceX’s prices will do it. Right now satellite companies view them as offering a less reliable product, and until they can prove this impression false they need to offer their rocket for even less that SpaceX.

This is in fact what SpaceX did at the beginning. Its rockets were untested and thus risky to use. To compensate they offered a cheaper way to space. Now Russia has to do the same, or the business will continue to go to others. I wonder if Rogozin understands this.

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Russia’s Proton launches military satellite

Russia today successfully launched a military communications satellite using its Proton rocket.

This was only the second Proton launch this year, a rocket that was once Russia’s commercial workhorse with a launch rate more akin to what SpaceX has today.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

35 China
20 SpaceX
14 Russia
11 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China leads the U.S. in the national rankings, 35 to 33.

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Russian company that builds Proton rocket faces bankruptcy and reorganization

The Russian company that builds Russia’s Proton rocket now faces bankruptcy and reorganization.

By the middle of 2018, due to the dramatically slowed down rate of Proton launches, its manufacturers fell deeper into the red and needed federal funding to stay afloat. According to the official numbers, GKNPTs Khrunichev lost 23 billion rubles in 2017 and asked for a 30-billion infusion of cash from the government.

At the end of June, the Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin acknowledged an ongoing effort to fix the financial situation at Khrunichev and announced plans to accelerate the switch of the Russian launch operations from the Proton to the Angara family. Ironically, Roskosmos exacerbated the company’s debt with its penalties for missed production deadlines, even though Russian payloads slated to ride those delayed rockets were themselves years behind schedule and GKNPTs Khrunichev had no room to store large rocket components.

In an effort to raise capital, Khrunichev planned to sell a big part of its campus, located in the hyper-valuable real estate area of Moscow, to private developers. In the process, the company would also dramatically reduce its production capacity and cut its personnel in the Russian capital, shifting key manufacturing operations to Omsk, in Western Siberia. In another cost-saving measure, around 200 people were reported to be marked for layoffs at Proton’s launch facilities in Baikonur beginning in the fall of 2018.

The Russian government, rather than allow for competition, is working to prop the company up. So, rather than having new companies appear with new and better ideas, Russia will be saddled with an old company not good at innovating.

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The dying Russian space program

Three articles today illustrate starkly the sad state of the Russian space program.

The first story describes the serious problems for Russia’s first lunar probe in decades.

Its launch was originally scheduled for 2016 but was postponed to 2019 mainly because of lack of funding. Roscosmos allocated a budget of 4.5 billion rubles to NPO Lavochkin, Luna-Glob’s builder, as recently as October 2016.

Since then, almost everything has gone according to the plan, except with a crucial instrument called BIB, the probe’s inertial measurement unit. Provided by the Russian company NPO IT – located in the city of Korolyov, not far from ISS Mission Control – the BIB should provide the onboard computer with the necessary information to ensure guidance on the path from the Earth to the Moon.

However, BIB testing at NPO IT showed unexpected results, clearly indicating it was not working properly. The designers of this system noted it won’t be ready for the 2019 launch window, which resulted in NPO Lavochkin trying to replace it with a European equivalent called ASTRIX, designed by Airbus Defence & Space.

However, sanctions against Russia – from the European Commission in the fallout of the Ukrainian crisis – strictly forbid such a deal.

A different Russian instrument could replace BIB, but it won’t be ready in time, further delaying the mission to 2021 when many of its other instruments will be past their own due dates.

The second story describes the end of Russia’s Proton rocket, first built in the mid-1960s and since the 1990s has been its commercial workhorse. Faced with numerous failures and an inability to compete with SpaceX, it has lost its market share, and will now be replaced by Russia’s new Angara rocket. The problem is that Angara itself is not ready, and will likely not be operational until 2021, at the earliest.

The third article describes some of the reasons why Angara will take so long to be operational. Vostochny, Russia’s new spaceport, doesn’t have the necessary facilities, and it appears there is a disagreement within the Russian aerospace community about how fast those facilities can be built, or even if all are needed immediately. The top management in Roscosmos seems reluctant to switch all operations from Baikonur, probably for political reasons, while the expert quoted by the article says they should do it fast.

Either way, the entire Russian space program seems mired in bad technology, overpriced products, and poor and confused management. They have lost most of their commercial international customers, are about to lose NASA as well when Dragon and Starliner begin flying American astronauts, and do not have the resources to replace this lost income. Further, the top-down centralized management by the government of the entire aerospace industry has worsened these problems by stifling competition and innovation.

Russia might recover eventually, but for the next decade expect them to play a very minor role in space.

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Russia cancels new lightweight Proton

Russia has announced that it is canceling the development of a new lightweight Proton rocket, conceived as a way to attract new international commercial customers.

Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center has decided not to go ahead with its project to develop the Proton-L (Proton Medium) two-stage launch vehicle (LV), a source at the center told Interfax.

“The project to create the Proton-L launch vehicle will not be pursued for financial reasons,” the source said.

Let me translate. They have not gotten sufficient international commercial orders for this two-stage version of Proton, and thus it will be unprofitable to build it. The lack of orders is likely linked to Russia’s ongoing quality control problems, along with rampant corruption, within its aerospace industry.

Unfortunately, the Putin government’s solution to the quality control problems and corruption has been to consolidate the industry into one corporation under government control, thus eliminating any competition inside Russia. Such an approach however has been found historically to routinely produce more corruption and quality control problems, as it has no built-in incentives to encourage improvement.

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Russia’s Proton successfully launches military satellite

Russia’s Proton rocket today successfully launched the military satellite, Blagovest 12L.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union the Proton had been Russia’s commercial mainstay rocket. This paragraph from the story reveals how much that business has shrunk:

The first Proton launch since last September, Thursday’s launch was the first of only three or four expected to take place in 2018. The only other Proton launches confirmed to be on schedule for 2018 are a commercial mission with Eutelsat 5 West B and Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) – which is slated for no earlier than the third quarter of the year – and the deployment of an Elektro-L weather satellite for Roskosmos in October. An additional military launch could occur later in the year. Planned launches of the Yamal 601 communications satellite and the Nauka module of the International Space Station were recently delayed until 2019.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

11 China
8 SpaceX
4 ULA
4 Russia
3 Japan
3 Europe
3 India

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Russia gets multiple launch contracts for its Proton?

International Launch Services, Russia’s division for obtaining commercial launch contracts, announced yesterday that it obtained “multiple orders” for its Proton rocket.

ILS, a leading provider of commercial launch services, announced multiple launch assignments for Proton Medium launches that will include the use of both the 4.35 meter and the new 5.2 meter payload fairing. The missions will take place beginning in late 2019 from Pad 24 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The reason I put a question mark in the headline is that this announcement is incredibly vague. It doesn’t name the customers. It doesn’t specify the actual number of launches. It really doesn’t tell us anything, other than the Proton has obtained launch orders!

I suspect the Russians have gotten some launch contracts, but I also suspect that these contracts are with Russian companies only, and they want to hide this fact because it indicates once again that they have lost their international market business to SpaceX and others. Launch orders from within Russia are essentially ordered to go to Proton by the government. No one else however wants to buy their services, because no one has faith in their quality control processes. There have been too many launch failures in recent years.

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Bad times fall on Russian Proton rocket

Link here. The key quote is this:

All this means that after 53 years in service, the venerable Proton rocket might set an anti-record in 2018 by flying only a couple of missions. And, for the first time since its entrance onto the world market at the end of the Cold War, it may not bring any money to its cash-strapped developer.

This story confirms much of what I have been reporting about Proton and the loss of its customer base in the past three years.

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Higher insurance rates for Proton threaten its market viability

Capitalism in space: Because the insurance industry is presently charging significantly more to insure a Proton launch than it charges for Falcon 9 or Ariane 5, the Russian share of the launch market is threatened.

Insurance premiums for launches of International Launch Services’ Russian Proton rocket, which satellite operators and insurers say is a necessary third leg for the commercial market — the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the ArianeGroup Ariane 5 being the other two — total about 12% of the insured value. That compares with 3-4% for Ariane 5 and 4-5% for the Falcon 9.

In dollar terms, that means that ILS customers seeking a $200 million policy covering the the value of the satellite, the launch and the satellite’s first year in orbit, would pay a $24 million premium. The same customer launching the same satellite on Falcon 9 or the Ariane 5 would pay no more than $10 million, and possibly less.

The industry cites the quality control problems experienced by the entire Russian space industry, and Proton in particular, in the past decade for this differential. They say they expect these rates to fall if Proton continues its string of successful launches, now totaling 12 in a row.

The article also includes an interesting interview with Kirk Pysher, the head of International Launch Services (ILS), which handles the commercial launches of Proton for Russia. He mentions the possibility that Russia will self-insure so private customers will no longer have bear the cost of these higher rates, thus making ILS more competitive with SpaceX and ArianeGroup.

I think there is another unstated reason why the insurance company is charging more. In the past five years Russia consolidated its entire aerospace industry into a single corporation, Roscosmos, run by the government. I suspect that insurers do not trust this set-up for being the best vehicle for achieving efficiency and good quality control, and that is why they are still taking a wait-and-see attitude on whether Russia has gotten a handle on the quality control issues that caused so many failures in recent years.

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Proton successfully launches Russian military satellite

Russia today successfully used its Proton rocket to place a military communications satellite in orbit.

Though primarily a military satellite, it will also be used by civilian customers as well.

Meanwhile, in their effort to recover from last year’s engine recall that practically shut down their launch industry, the Russians are trying to up their launch rate, with additional Proton launches now set for September 9 and 28. At the moment, they and SpaceX are tied for the most launches in 2017, and I suspect it will be a neck and neck race for the rest of the year.

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More Russian launch delays

Three stories out of Russia today suggest that that country’s aerospace industry has not yet fixed all of its quality control problems.

The last two stories both refer to the launch of Germany’s Spektr-RG, which was originally supposed to launch in 2014. The most recent schedule said the astronomical observatory would be launched in September 2018. That they need an extra month in order to “integration and ground development of the Spektr-RG spacecraft” does not seem out of line. At the same time, that they do not provide any reasons for the delay raises questions.

Meanwhile, that the Proton rocket for the Amazonas-5 launch has not yet been shipped seems incredible. The September 9 launch date was announced on August 9. You would expect that by now Russian companies would know exactly how long it takes to get a rocket to the launchpad. This suggests another more fundamental problem with the rocket that they are not revealing.

I know I am being a bit harsh on the Russians here. A more positive spin (which also might be true) might be that they are finally getting a handle on their quality control issues, and the result is these few additional delays as they clean things up.

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Russia lowers its Proton launch plans for 2017

Though they are about to resume Proton launches, Russia today revealed that they only intend to launch the rocket five times in 2017, not seven as announced earlier.

Russia plans five Proton-M carrier rocket launches this year, including three commercial launches, Khrunichev Space Center CEO Andrei Kalinovsky told TASS on Wednesday. “Our plans for this year also additionally include four Proton-M carrier rocket launches. These are two commercial launches with Amazonas 5 and AsiaSat 9 satellites, and also two federal launches,” the chief executive said.

Even more interesting, the article notes that Russia only has contracts to launch 15 commercial satellites through 2023. That’s a launch rate of only about 2.5 to 3 commercial Proton launches per year, a rate that seems much less than in the past. Moreover, while they say they haven’t lost any customers in the past year, it also appears they haven’t gotten any either.

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Proton rolled to launchpad for June 8 launch

After a pause in launches lasting one day short of a full year, Russia has rolled its Proton rocket to the launchpad for a hoped-for June 8 launch of a commercial communications satellite.

The article provides a nice overview of Russia’s struggles during the past year, attempting to track down the reasons why their rockets were having problems (corruption at the rocket engine factory) and their repeated attempts to get this rocket off the ground.

They hope, if all goes well, to complete seven Proton launches through the end of 2017 in order to clean up their backlog while also demonstrating that they have solved their quality control problems.

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Russia responds to SpaceX reused booster success

A bunch of stories from Russia today appear to express that country’s political response to SpaceX’s success yesterday in launching a commercial satellite using a previously flown first stage.

It appears that these stories are quoting a variety of Russian officials who apparently did not get their stories straight. Also, it appears that much of what they are saying here is pure bluster. For example, in the third link the official makes the silly claim that the ability of their rocket engines to be started and then restarted repeatedly proves they are dedicated to re-usability. And the first two links don’t provide much back-up for the claims that they can complete with SpaceX, especially since SpaceX presently charges a third less than they do per launch, and that is using new boosters. With reused boosters SpaceX’s launch fees will be less than half what Russia has been charging for a Proton launch ($90 million vs $40 million).

Similarly, the claim that they will complete 30 launches this years is absurd. They won’t be able to launch Proton until May, at the soonest, because of the need to remove defective parts from all of their in-stock engines. Soyuz launches are similarly delayed while they check its engines also. To complete 30 launches in only seven months seems very unrealistic to me, especially since the best they have done in a full year this century is 34 launches, with an average slightly less than 30 per year.

Nonetheless, this spate of stories and statements by Russian officials shows that they are feeling the heat of competition, and also feel a need to respond. The first story has this significant statement:

Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos is responding to the challenges with available possibilities, he added. “It has announced a considerable reduction in the cost of Proton rocket launches. The commercial price of this rocket’s launch is considerably higher than its prime cost and we have the potential for the price cut. But customers are giving up our services because the number of payloads [satellites] remains unchanged and does not grow. Correspondingly, a new player on the market snatches away a part of orders,” the expert noted.

Because of Russia’s low labor costs they have always had a large profit margin on their Proton launches. The $90 million they charged was set just below what Arianespace charged for its launches. It appears they are now planning to lower their prices further to match SpaceX.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

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Bad solder joints cause of Russian Proton engine defects

The problem that has forced the Russians to recall all Proton second and third stage engines has been identified as the use of the wrong materials in solder joints.

According to specifications, the structural walls and the nozzle chamber of the gas generator had to be fused together with the help of the solder designated G70NKh, which employs nickel, chromium and manganese alloy (Ni-Cr-Mn). However the investigation revealed that due to mismanagement of the raw material usage at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant, the required alloy had been replaced with the PZhK-1000 solder comprised of palladium, nickel, chromium and silicon (Pd-Ni-Cr-Si). Because the replaced solder did not meet specifications, it could lead to structural disintegration of the nozzle head during the firing of the gas generator.

The discovery of the problem with the solder triggered inspection of other engines and revealed that all RD-0210 and RD-0212 engines from the second and third stages that had been manufactured during 2015 and 2016 had been equipped with defective gas generators. In order to re-certify these engines for flight, each of them would have to be disassembled, the gas generator would have to be removed and replaced, followed by the re-assembly and re-testing of each engine!

The article also notes that the next Angara rocket is also “unfit for flight” due to unspecified defects. It also notes widespread corruption and mismanagement throughout the Russian aerospace industry.

Sadly, the decision by the Putin administration to consolidate their industry into one huge corporation run by the government, and thus eliminate any competition, is only going to make solving this problem more difficult. What Russia needs is competition, with many different companies free to challenge each other for business. It also needs to allow companies to fail and go out of business.

Instead, everything is controlled from above, and thus no competition can happen. Rather than finding a new company to build these engines, the government is going to provide the company “economic aid” in order to modernize it. This is like putting a band-aid on a broken bone.

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Practically every Russian Proton rocket engine defective

The investigation of the Russian supply of rocket engines for its Proton rocket has discovered that practically every engine, numbering over seventy, had defects that needed repair.

71 engines, mostly used to power the second and third stages of the Proton rocket, require complete overhauls to remove defects. Arbuzov did not specify what was wrong with the engines. In January, Interfax reported on an investigation into high-quality metals swapped by a plant manager for cheaper alternatives. “Most of the work will be done in 2017, but we understand that some portion will inevitably slip into 2018,” Arbuzov said. “Our main goal is to avoid disrupting the government space program’s launch schedule, or the schedules of the Defense Ministry and commercial customers.”

There is also the possibility that these defects will be found in Soyuz rocket engines as well. Stay tuned.

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