Attack that injured Rogozin in the Ukraine also killed two

Dmitry Rogozin playing soldier in the Ukraine
Dmitry Rogozin playing make-believe soldier
recently in the Ukraine

More details have now emerged about the explosion that injured former Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, including the fact that the attack, in Ukrainian occupied territory in Donetsk, also killed two.

The former head of Russia’s space agency was wounded when an artillery shell exploded as he celebrated his birthday in a hotel near the front line in Ukraine. Dmitry Rogozin, a flamboyant Russian politician who was once a deputy prime minister, was reportedly hit in the buttocks, head and back by shrapnel.

Two people were killed in the attack and several others were wounded, authorities in Donetsk said on Thursday, and Mr Rogozin said he was due to be operated on. Russian state news channel Rossiya 24 TV said the former space chief was celebrating his 59th birthday at the Shesh-Besh hotel and restaurant with several other separatist officials.

But Mr Rogozin insisted the incident took place during a “work meeting”.

Russian investigators think the shell came from a French-made Caesar self-propelled howitzer.

The criticism of Rogozin concerning this story has been quite ugly.

“A party 10 kilometres away from the front line with the Ceasar’s range of 40 kilometres? I would reprimand him for being childish,” [wrote Yuri Podolyaka, a prominent pro-Kremlin blogger.] “Two people have died in that restaurant, which, I think, is on his conscience.”

Rogozin’s path has been steadily downward since he was deputy prime minister of Russia’s defense department from 2011 to 2018. First he was demoted to head of Roscosmos, where he ended up losing Russia more than a half billion in income by his cancellation of the launch contract with OneWeb. Worse, that cancellation, and Rogozin’s confiscation of 36 OneWeb satellites, ended any chance of Russia getting any international business for years to come.

These actions caused him to be fired from Roscosmos in July, and shipped to the Ukraine (the modern equivalent of Siberia) to act as an envoy in the Russian-occupied territories. Once there, he did nothing to enhance his reputation. By holding this very public birthday party, at a public place so close to the front lines, was almost guaranteeing he and his party would be attacked.

I wish he quickly recovers from his injuries, but I also think Putin would be foolish to give this guy any further positions of authority.

Roscosmos head: Russia likely to remain ISS partner through 2028

According to a statement made by Yuri Borisov, the head of Roscosmos, during a press conference today, Russia now will definitely remain an ISS partner through 2024, and likely through 2028, assuming the station remains safe and operable.

These statements fit well with the “kinder, gentler” approach that Borisov seems to be taking in his relations with Russia’s international partners in space, compared to the bellicose and often hostile attitude of Roscosmos’s previous boss, Dmitry Rogozin. Borisov has been trying to ease the tension. He quickly signed the barter agreement with NASA allowing for crew exchanges on each other’s spacecraft, and has made it clear almost immediately that the ISS partnership was solid.

I strongly suspect Borisov will eventually offer OneWeb the return of its 36 satellites that Rogozin confiscated. This is not likely to regain Russia OneWeb’s commercial business, but it would do a lot to make it less a pariah in the international launch market.

NASA and Roscosmos finalize barter deal for flying astronauts to ISS

As expected, mere hours after the firing of Dmitry Rogozin as head of Roscosmos, the Russians finally signed a barter deal with NASA for flying astronauts on each other’s spacecraft.

U.S. astronaut Frank Rubio will launch to the space station from Kazakhstan with two Russians in September. That same month, Russian cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, will join two Americans and one Japanese aboard a SpaceX rocket flying from Florida. Another crew swap will occur next spring.

No money will exchange hands under the agreement, according to NASA.

It appears that the firing of Rogozin by Putin signals larger strategic goals. Putin wants to defuse the tensions between the west and Russia, and this barter deal indicates Rogozin’s firing has achieved that aim, at least in space. Whether Roscosmos’s new head, Yuri Borisov, can regain Russia’s international commercial rocket customers is more questionable. Roscosmos under Rogozin proved to be a very unreliable partner. Regaining trust so that westerners will be willing to buy its services again could take decades.

Rogozin removed as Roscosmos’ head

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation which controls the country’s entire aerospace industry, was fired yesterday and replaced by another former deputy prime minister, Yuri Borisov.

Don’t think Rogozin is out of favor with Putin however. Instead, it appears Putin wants his bull-headedness for running one of the regions Russia has conquered in the eastern Ukraine.

Following its tumultuous tenure as the head of Roskosmos, Rogozin was expected to move to the presidential administration and, possibly, lead it or “curate” the Russian occupation of the Eastern Ukraine, the independent Meduza publication reported.

I wonder if Rogozin’s removal is connected in any way with the ongoing negotiations between NASA and Russia’s foreign ministry for the barter agreement to allow the two to fly each other’s astronauts on each other’s capsules.

That agreement has been in negotiations and reviews for months by the two agencies as well as the U.S. State Department and Russian Foreign Ministry. NASA has long advocated for the agreement to enable what it calls “mixed crews” or “integrated crews” on spacecraft. That would ensure at least one NASA astronaut and one Roscosmos cosmonaut would be on the station should either Soyuz or commercial crew vehicles be unavailable for an extended period.

Rogozin’s bellicose manner has I think made those negotiations difficult. Putin might have decided, especially with the break up of its space partnership with Europe, to tone things down. Moreover, he might have realized that Rogozin’s contentious manner might be better put trying to take control of occupied Ukrainian territory.

Roscosmos forbids its astronauts from using Europe’s robot arm

In response to the final decision this week by the European Space Agency to officially end its cooperation with Russia on its ExoMars mission, Roscosmos today forbid its astronauts from using Europe’s new robot arm that was recently installed on the Russian Nauka module of ISS.

Russia’s crew onboard the International Space Station (ISS) will stop using the European ERA manipulator arm in response to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) refusal from cooperation on the ExoMars project, CEO of Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin said on Tuesday.

“In my turn, I instruct our ISS crew to stop using the European Robotic Arm (ERA). Let [ESA Director General Josef] Aschbacher along with his boss [EU foreign policy chief Josep] Borrell fly to space and do at least something useful in their entire lives,” he wrote on his Telegram channel.

The arm was designed to work on the Russian part of ISS, so it appears this decision by Rogozin is an example of someone cutting off his nose to spite his face. It essentially reduces Russia’s capabilities on the station.

As for ExoMars, it is unclear what will happen to the lander that Russia built to put Europe’s Franklin rover on Mars. Roscosmos has said it might proceed with its own mission to Mars, using that lander, but it has not made the full commitment to do so.

Russian company S7 ends project to build private rocket

The Russian company S7 has ended its project to build a private rocket, citing lack of funds and a dearth of Russian investors.

Due to a lack of opportunity to raise funding, the project to create a light-class carrier rocket has been suspended,” the press service said.

The company said that was the reason why it let go some of its staff – 30 people out of more than 100 – in June. “Still, S7 Space continues to operate in some areas, such as additive and welding technologies where work is underway,” it said.

S7 first announced this rocket project in 2019. Development was suspended in 2020, however, when the Putin government imposed new much higher fees on the company for storing the ocean launch platform Sea Launch, fees so high that the company was soon negotiating to sell the platform to a Russian state-run corporation.

At the moment it appears that while Russia has possession of the Sea Launch ocean floating launch platform, it has nothing to launch from it. Nor does there appear to be any Russia project that might eventually do so. The Putin government has quite successfully choked off S7 — fearing the competition it would bring to Roscosmos — and with it any other new rocket company.

Roscosmos to only accept future payments in rubles

Shooting yourself in the foot: Dmitry Rogozin today announced that Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos — which controls its entire aerospace industry — will from now on only accept future payments in rubles for foreign companies and countries.

First, because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine, Roscosmos no longer has much business outside of Russia. There are only a very tiny handful of foreign companies or countries left having contracts with Roscosmos, so this new rule won’t affect many.

Second, this order will guarantee that the last few will flee, and that there will be not any new foreign contracts to follow. The ruble these days is worthless. No one will want to buy rubles to pay Russia. And if they do, it will be a fake paper transaction created only seconds before payment, merely to meet the rule. Why should anyone bother, even China?

Russia to lose seventeen launches due to Ukraine sanctions

This article at Space News today provides a nice summary of the number of launches that Russia’s Roscosmos will likely lose in the next three years due to the break off of commercial operations against that country because of its invasion of the Ukraine.

According to the article, Russia will lose sixteen launches. The list however misses one South Korean satellite scheduled for launch on an Angara rocket later this year. The total breakdown of this lost business is therefore as follows:

13 launches lost in 2022
3 launches lost in 2023
1 launch lost in 2024

The entities impacted are as follows:

Government launches:
Europe: six launches in ’22 and ’23, totaling eight satellites
South Korea: two launches in ’22
Sweden: one launch in ’22

Commercial launches:
OneWeb: six launches in ’22, totaling 199 satellites
Axelspace: one launch, totaling four satellites
Synspective: one launch

If the Ukraine War were to end today, it is possible that most of the government launches would be reinstated. The commercial companies however are almost certainly going to find other launch providers, no matter what. OneWeb for example is hardly going to trust its business to Russia after that country cancelled the launches and (at least at this moment) has confiscated the already delivered satellites.

If the war continues for another two or three months, then all this business will vanish for good, as alternative rocket companies will likely be found.

This list however does reveal one interesting fact. It appears that very few private companies have been interested in buying Russian launch services, with or without the Ukraine War. Most of Russia’s international customers have been other governments. Even OneWeb falls partly into this category, as it is half owned by the United Kingdom.

This fact suggests that Russia’s product has simply not been competitive against the new commercial market. The governments meanwhile probably had political motives in addition to economics to throw their business Russia’s way. Those political motives are now gone.

Space spat between Biden and Rogozin over Russian invasion of Ukraine

Yesterday saw harsh words expressed by both President Biden and the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, concerning the partnership of the two countries at ISS, with Biden imposing sanctions and noting these will specifically harm Russia’s space industry, and Rogozin responding by threatening to dump ISS on either a U.S. or European city.

In Biden’s statement, he said, “We estimate that we will cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports, and it will strike a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military. It will degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program,”

Rogozin’s response came in a series of tweets on Twitter, with his most bellicose statements as follows:

Do you want to destroy our cooperation on the ISS?

This is how you already do it by limiting exchanges between our cosmonaut and astronaut training centers. Or do you want to manage the ISS yourself? Maybe President Biden is off topic, so explain to him that the correction of the station’s orbit, its avoidance of dangerous rendezvous with space garbage, with which your talented businessmen have polluted the near-Earth orbit, is produced exclusively by the engines of the Russian Progress MS cargo ships. If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe? There is also the option of dropping a 500-ton structure to India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?

Meanwhile, it isn’t Russia’s space industry that will suffer the most from this invasion, but Ukraine’s. For example, the American company Launcher, which has had a software team in the Ukraine, has moved most of that team to Bulgaria for their safety.

As a precaution given the escalating political situation, during the last few weeks, we successfully relocated our Ukraine staff to Sofia, Bulgaria, where we opened a new Launcher Europe office. We also invited their immediate family to join them in this move and funded their relocation expenses. We continue to encourage and support five of the support staff and one engineer who decided to remain in Ukraine.

The company’s press release makes it clear that it is no longer dependent in any way with facilities in the Ukraine.

Launcher’s actions will not be the last. Expect all Western commercial efforts linked to the Ukraine to break off ties in order to protect their investments. Moreover, if Russia should recapture the Ukraine entirely, it will likely not give much support to its space industry, as Roscosmos has developed its own Russian resources in the past two decades and will likely want to support those instead.

Thus, the expected destruction of that country’s aerospace industry by Russia’s invasion proceeds.

Roscosmos struggles to figure out how private enterprise works

null
Liberty for private enterprise in Russia’s space industry?

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc today published a translation of an interview given by Oxana Wolf, Roscosmos Deputy Director of the Department of Advanced Programs and the Sphere Project, describing Roscosmos’ effort to work with Russian private commercial aerospace companies.

Though she declared near the end of the interview that “We want our private companies to succeed,” the rest of the interview indicated that she and Roscosmos don’t really understand how private enterprise works, though it also appeared both are struggling to figure it out.

For example, when asked why Russia is having so much difficulty changing its regulations to encourage private enterprise, Wolf said the following:

I wondered this question. I saw at what point the Americans decided to change their legislation in order to raise a whole galaxy of private owners and entrust them with tasks that were previously solved by the state. Changes in space laws began in the 1980s, and laws that got [Jeff] Bezos, [Elon] Musk and [Richard] Branson and others on their feet were passed in the mid-1990s. That is, the “era of private traders education” began more than 30 years ago!

When the “private traders” proved their ability to provide quality services, the American government agencies involved in space, on a competitive basis, gave them orders for launches. [emphasis mine]

To her mind, the government led this change. In Russia’s top-down culture, such change must always come from above, from government leadership. However, her impression of this history is wrong. » Read more

An independent Russian private space company?

Capitalism in space? The Russian company S7 Space announced today that plans to soon begin tests of the fuel tanks of its proposed reusable smallsat rocket, and is in the process of deciding what Russian facility to use.

“We plan to test the rocket’s elements, namely fuel tanks of a smaller size, with a diameter of 1.5 meters. The trials are aimed at proving that the structure is durable. A concrete laboratory is yet to be selected for the purpose. In other words, there has been no firm contract for trials so far,” [explained the head of the company’s technological research department, Arseny Kisarev.]

The official expressed hope that the trials would be carried out by TsNIIMash (Central Research Institute of Machine Building), a main research institution of Russia’s state-run space corporation Roscosmos.

“However, choosing another lab is also possible, if it corresponds to our requirements of the testing procedure,” he said.

This rocket was first announced in 2019. Development was suspended in 2020, however, when the Putin government imposed new much higher fees on the company for storing the ocean launch platform Sea Launch, fees so high that the company was soon negotiating to sell the platform to a Russian state-run corporation.

It is not clear whether that sale ever occurred, but the company itself appears only now to be resuming some operations. Though today’s story suggests it is operating independent of the control of Roscosmos and the Russian government, this is quite doubtful. Russia today functions much like the various Mafia mobs in the U.S. The various different government agencies divide up the work into “territories” that belong to each company. No other independent company can enter that territory and compete for business. Since S7 Space wants to build its own rocket, that makes it a direct competitor with Roscosmos and the government design bureaus within it that build the various Russian rockets.

More likely Roscosmos wants S7 Space to survive, but under its control and only for the purpose of building a smallsat rocket for Roscosmos. S7 Space appears to be struggling to stay independent, with this announcement likely part of that struggle.

Russian engineers to dock next Progress to Zvezda to test it

Russian engineers have decided that they will dock the next Progress freighter flying to ISS and scheduled to launch tomorrow to the Zvezda module in order to find out if the stress of that docking will cause more cracks in the module’s aft section.

Scheduled for launch in early hours of October 28, 2021, the Progress MS-18 cargo ship will be on a two-day trip to the International Space Station, aiming to dock at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module, ISS. That particular docking mechanism was unoccupied for half a year, because it is connected to the rest of the outpost via the PrK transfer compartment, which had been leaking air despite all efforts to seal tiny cracks in its walls. Progress MS-18 should confirm that the PrK chamber could be used safely.

This is not crazy, it actually makes a great deal of sense. The engineers need to know if a docking results in more cracks. If so, it will confirm the cause and also provide them the data they need to prevent such things on future manned space vessels.

Putin reduces budget for Roscosmos by 16%

The Putin government has significantly cut the budget for Roscosmos, reducing it by 16% for each of the next three years.

For 2022, the state budget for space activities will be set at 210 billion rubles ($2.9 billion), a cut of 40.3 billion rubles ($557 million) from the previous year. Similar cuts will follow in subsequent years. The most significant decreases will be in areas such as “manufacturing-technological activities” and “cosmodrome development.” Funding for “scientific research and development” was zeroed out entirely.

The publications say Russian President Vladimir Putin is unhappy with the performance of Russia’s space program. At a space industry meeting on September 29, they report, Putin criticized the industry’s failure to fulfill directives on long-term goals in the space sphere. In 2020, for example, Roscosmos failed to hit 30 of the 83 stated goals of the national space program.

Putin’s dissatisfaction is quite justified. Since his government consolidated all of Russia’s aerospace industry into a single corporation run by Roscosmos, the space agency has made many promises but achieved little. It is clear that he hopes these cuts will force it to get its act together.

The problem is that Putin has done nothing to change the root cause that has fueled this failure, the government aerospace monopoly that Putin himself created. Without competition and a willingness to allow new Russian aerospace companies to succeed — in direct competition with Roscosmos — there is little chance of reform. Roscosmos will struggle on, and it might even begin to show a bit of success, but in the end its best prospect is to become one of many competitors in the new commercial space market. And its market share will be small, because the competitive private companies in the west will easily beat it in cost and innovation.

Russia imposes new restrictions on any reporting of Roscosmos

According to this report of today’s launch by Russia of a movie crew to ISS, Putin’s government has just passed new restrictions on reporting of its space effort by Russian citizens, either in or out of Russia.

The new regulations, which took effect on September 29, 2021, essentially prohibit Russians from reporting on the Russian space program outside of Russia. Violators of these regulations will be classified as “foreign agents” — which would create numerous legal issues for Russian citizens.

Specifically, the new regulations target the field of military and technical activities that are not related to or connected in any way with state secrets but which, with vague language, “can be used against Russia.” Most of the activities on the newly released list by the FSB specifically focus on Roscosmos. Prohibited topics of reporting regarding Roscosmos now include information on investigations conducted by the agency, the organization’s financials, condition of rockets and ground support equipment, development plans for Roscosmos vehicles, Roscosmos’ cooperation with other nations for space activities, and new technologies.

These rules essentially forbid Russian citizens from publishing almost anything that Roscosmos itself does not publish. If they do so without permission from outside the country, returning to Russia will become very problematic.

Roscosmos declares film crew fit for launch to ISS

Capitalism in space: Roscosmos last week announced that the actress and director who plan to fly to ISS in October to film scenes for a science fiction movie are fit to fly.

Director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild got the thumbs-up after a meeting of the Chief Medical Commission at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow, Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos announced last week.

Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who is scheduled to launch toward the orbiting lab with Shipenko and Peresild aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Oct. 5, also got final medical clearance. So did the backups for the mission: cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, director Alexey Dudin and actor Alena Mordovina.

The movie script itself, about an astronaut who gets a heart attack while on a spacewalk and then has to have surgery in space before returning to Earth, actually sounds quite good and — most refreshing — well grounded in reality. American space films tend to go in absurd directions, often because the filmmakers are ignorant and have no interest in learning anything about the subject they are writing about.

So far, the schedule of upcoming space tourist flights appears on track to happen, as announced:

  • September 15, 2021: SpaceX’s Dragon capsule flies four private citizens on a three day orbital flight
  • October 2021: The Russians will fly two passengers to ISS for 10 days to shoot a movie
  • December 2021: The Russians will fly billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant to ISS for 12 days
  • cDecember 2021: Space Adventures, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four in orbit for five days
  • January 2022: Axiom, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four tourists to ISS
  • 2022-2024: Three more Axiom tourist flights on Dragon to ISS
  • 2024: Axiom begins launching its own modules to ISS, starting construction of its own private space station
  • c2024: SpaceX’s Starship takes Yusaku Maezawa and several others on a journey around the Moon.

Russia offers conflicting causes for Nauka engine firing

Russian officials have now suggested two explanations for the accidently ignition of the engines on the new Nauka module to ISS, neither of which appears to have involved any real investigation.

Vladimir Solovyov, flight director of the space station’s Russian segment, blamed the incident on a “short-term software failure.” In a statement released Friday by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Solovyov said because of the failure, a direct command to turn on the lab’s engines was mistakenly implemented.

He added the incident was “quickly countered by the propulsion system” of another Russian component at the station and “at the moment, the station is in its normal orientation” and all its systems “are operating normally.”

Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin later Friday suggested that “human factor” may have been at play. “There was such euphoria (after Nauka successfully docked with the space station), people relaxed to some extent,” Rogozin said in a radio interview. “Perhaps one of the operators didn’t take into account that the control system of the block will continue to adjust itself in space. And it determined a moment three hours after (the docking) and turned on the engines.” [emphasis mine]

So, was it human error? Or was it the software programming? Or both?

No matter what the specific cause, these conflicting stories, thrown out in almost an offhand manner, demonstrate that the real fundamental cause was the terrible, sloppy, and error-prone quality control systems at Roscosmos and all the aerospace companies it has taken over since the Putin administration consolidated Russia’s aerospace industry into a single government-run corporation.

These kinds of failures seem to happen with Russia now repeatedly. From launch aborts to launch failures to corruption in contracting to corruption in engine construction to plain simple sabotage, mistakes and errors and poor planning and dishonesty seem to hound their space effort at every level. Thank God Americans no longer have to fly on a Soyuz capsule, though one American on board ISS is still scheduled to come home on one.

Without competition and freedom, there is no pressure in Russia to improve, to improvise, to rethink, and to clean house when a management gets stale or corrupt. Instead, operations stultify and develop dry rot. They can’t see problems or even fix them efficiently. If anything, management circles the wagons to protect itself, while often deliberately ignoring the problems.

Rocket science is hard. It can quickly kill people when done poorly.

I think it will be a great relief to end this partnership. And the sooner the better.

The bell of freedom rings in space

The Liberty Bell
“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and the
inhabitants thereof.” Photo credit: William Zhang

Not surprisingly the mainstream press today was agog with hundreds of stories about Richard Branson’s suborbital space flight yesterday on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane.

The excitement and joy over this success is certainly warranted. Back in 2004 Branson set himself the task of creating a reusable suborbital space plane he dubbed SpaceShipTwo, modeled after the suborbital plane that had won the Ansari X-Prize and intended to sell tickets so that private citizens would have the ability to go into space.

His flight yesterday completed that journey. The company he founded and is slowly selling off so that he is only a minority owner now has a vehicle that for a fee can take anyone up to heights ranging from 50 to 60 miles, well within the U.S. definition of space.

Nonetheless, if you rely on the media frenzy about this particular flight to inform you about the state of commercial space you end up having a very distorted picture of this new blossoming industry. Branson’s achievement, as great as it is, has come far too late. Had he done it a decade ago, as he had promised, he would have achieved something historic, proving what was then considered impossible, that private enterprise, using no government resources, could make space travel easy and common.

Now, however, he merely joins the many other private enterprises that are about to fly into space, with most doing it more frequently and with far greater skill and at a much grander scale than Virgin Galactic. His flight is no longer historic. It is merely one of many that is about to reshape space exploration forever.

Consider the upcoming schedule of already paid for commercial manned flights:
» Read more

A detailed look at Russia’s suffering and shrinking space program

Link here. The article starts off outlining Russia’s deepening inability to produce the computer chips it needs for its space effort, acerbated by sanctions imposed against that country because of its invasion of the Ukraine. It then goes on to describe the program’s overall financial problems, including its shrinking commercial market share resulting in a significant drop in income.

The article’s conclusion is stark:

If Moscow is unable to reach a new space deal with Washington, it will need to reconsider its space policy. But Russia has little wiggle room to increase federal spending on space activities to boost the industry. For instance, the government’s space program for 2016–2025 received $11.1 billion in 2016–2020 and will obtain another $10.2 billion in 2021–2025. The federal program for launch sites (2017–2025) secured $1.4 billion in 2017–2020 and will take in a further $2.83 billion in 2021–2025 (Economy.gov.ru, 2016–2021). The 2012–2020 GLONASS program received almost $5.1 billion, and $6.45 billion more is planned for the GLONASS program in 2021–2030 (RBC, December 21, 2020). Thus, without an international cooperation deal, and as long as Western sanctions are maintained, prospects for Russia’s space industry look bleak.

Russia has recently been working to establish a partnership with China and its effort to build a space station and a lunar base. That partnership however is not likely to provide Russia with any cash, which means the deal is an empty one. While China will continue to proceed to the Moon, I doubt Russia will follow with much.

It has also been trying to rework its American partnership, with Rogozin acting alternatively as a good guy/bad guy in public declarations. Since Russia opposes the Artemis Accords, and the Biden administration is continuing the Trump administration’s demand that all partners in the Artemis program agree to these accords, those negotiations are not likely to get Russia much. Moreover, NASA policy today is to feed money to American private companies so that they can grow, not feed money to Russia so that it can prosper.

Until Russia starts allowing free competition and private enterprise, outside the control of Roscosmos and the government, do not expect much of this Russian bad news to change. While China might strictly supervise the goals of its private space companies, it still encourages them to compete and innovate, and even fail. Russia not only strictly supervises, it also forbids any new startups from forming, as they might do harm to already established players. The result is no new innovation, and no new products of any real value.

Russian astronaut fired for opposing filming of movie on ISS

Krikalev on the shuttle to ISS flight in 1998
Sergei Krikalev on the first ISS assembly flight
by the space shuttle Endeavour in 1998.

According to one new story today, Russian astronaut, Sergei Krikalev, 62, was fired from his position in senior management within Roscosmos for opposing its decision to film for profit the first feature film on ISS.

Krikalev did not say why he was against the film but his stance was backed by former colleagues who said that taking a passenger would delay a flight for a cosmonaut. Roscosmos denied that Krikalev had been fired.

Krikalev is one of Russia’s most celebrated astronauts. He was the first person to fly in space who was born after Sputnik, was the first Russian to fly on the space shuttle, and was the first Russian (along with an American) to enter ISS’s first module soon after launch. Overall he has spent more than 800 days in space.

He also became the last Soviet citizen, stranded on Mir when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. When he launched, he was a citizen of the U.S.S.R. When he finally returned, that country didn’t exist, and he was now a citizen of Russia.

I interviewed him extensively for my book, Leaving Earth, because he was fluent in English due to his flights on the shuttle. What I learned was that Krikalev was then and probably still is an ardent communist. On that Mir flight he refused to be filmed in a commercial for Coca-Cola, arranged by Roscosmos to make some money. There was no way he would allow himself to be recorded in such a crass for-profit manner. Thus, I am not surprised he now opposes using Russian space facilities for a commercial movie, for profit.

I also found him to be a very thoughtful and analytical man, which also probably explains his opposition to this quickly arranged commercial flight. The film company is partly owned by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, so there probably is some payoffs and corruption involved. It is also probably interfering with the Russian side of operations, as the story says Krikalev claims. These factors would cause Krikalev to speak his mind and argue against the flight, which likely angered Rogozin, who is apparently pocketing some cash from the film.

I suspect Krikalev is not fired, but has merely been sent to the doghouse for a short while. Roscosmos (and Rogozin) can’t afford the bad publicity of letting him go. It also needs his expertise in their operations.

Russia’s first private space tourism company shuts down

Capitalism in space? Russia’s first private space tourism company has been forced to close before it even launched its first rocket because of the obstacles placed before by Russia’s government.

Kosmokurs’ operations will cease due to “insurmountable difficulties” in coordinating with local authorities on the cosmodrome project as well as the company’s “inability to obtain needed regulatory documents from the Defense Ministry” for the design of a suborbital tourist rocket, its CEO Pavel Pushkin told RIA Novosti.

However, the government-run Roscosmos, which controls the rest of Russia’s aerospace industry, has graciously announced it will hire Kosmokurs’ fifty employees.

Do you see a pattern? I do. Kosmokurs was cutting into Roscosmos’s territory. That could not be tolerated, and so the government moved to sabotage it. Now that it is dead, the government can absorb it to try to build its rocket and make money using it.

This kind of mob rule by the Russian government is why that country’s space industry is failing to compete with the new commercial industry coming out of the U.S. and elsewhere. It does not tolerate free competition, only top-down control by the government. The result is that while Russia might eventually fly its own space tourism rockets, it will have only one, and it will likely not be as efficient or as competitive. The only cost advantage it will likely have is Russia’s low wages.

Russia to lower launch price of new Angara rocket

Capitalism in space: According to its 2019 financial report, the Russian manufacturer of that country’s new Angara rocket intends by 2024 to lower launch price from about $100 million to about $57 million.

The high cost price of the latest Angara carrier rocket before the start of its serial production is due to the need for the Khrunichev Space Center to work at two sites, the press office of the State Space Corporation Roscosmos told TASS on Monday. “Before the production process is fully moved to the site of the Polyot company in Omsk, the Khrunichev Space Center has to work at two production sites, which creates additional overhead costs,” a Roscosmos spokesman said.

As part of its trials, the Angara rocket is being produced singly instead of serially, he said. “After the serial full-cycle production is launched, the item’s cost price will decrease,” the spokesman said.

Essentially they are claiming that the cost will drop once they start full production.

Putin slams Roscosmos for continuing corruption at Vostochny

At a meeting yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted Roscosmos for the corruption at the new spaceport at Vostochny, noting that despite the prosecution of numerous individuals the criminal behavior continues.

Russian President Putin said at a government meeting on Monday that dozens of criminal cases and jailings had failed to stem theft at the Vostochny spaceport construction site….

“It has been stated a hundred times: you must work transparently because large funds are allocated. This project is actually of the national scope! But, despite this, hundreds of millions, hundreds of millions [of rubles] are stolen! Several dozen criminal cases have been opened, the courts have already passed verdicts and some are serving their prison terms. However, things have not been put in order there the way it should have been done,” the Russian president said.

This article notes that out of $1.4 billion allocated for the spaceport, $169 million has been stolen. It does not however provide any details about any new corruption. Instead, it outlines the investigations and prosecutions that have already taken place.

According to Peskov, “at the first stage, 128 criminal cases were opened, which were later consolidated into 32 criminal cases and at the next stage the Investigative Committee singled out 21 cases and transferred them to the court of law and 18 persons were sentenced at the time,” Peskov said. “The Interior Ministry investigated 8 more cases,” he added.

Either Roscosmos officials revealed to Putin newly discovered corruption that the state-run press has been forbidden to discuss, or Putin’s criticism was aimed to discouraging future corruption.

Either way, Vostochny remains a typical government boondoggle. It has cost Russia far more than it should, and construction has been slow, beginning officially in 2012, though Russia has been working on it in fits and starts since the mid-2000s.

Turkey negotiating with Russia to train its future astronauts

Turkey might not have yet established its space program, nor have any announced intention of sending anyone into space, but it is presently negotiating with Russia to send any of its future astronauts to Russia for training.

Turkey has confirmed its intention to send astronauts to Russia for training, as follows from a report uploaded to the website of the Russian space corporation Roscosmos on Thursday following a working meeting between Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin and Turkey’s Ambassador to Russia Mehmet Samsar.

“The Turkish side confirmed its original plans for having its astronauts trained in the Star City,” the news release runs. “In the conversation topical issues concerning mutually beneficial cooperation in space were discussed. The two sides noted the great potential and importance of this theme in relations between the two countries,” the news release adds.

Earlier, the Roscosmos CEO said a Turkish astronaut might go to the International Space Station in 2021-2023.

Roscosmos right now is the only place in the world that has an established program for training astronauts, and it is clearly trying to make itself the go-to place for this service. This in turn gives Russia a big advantage in any worldwide competition for flying tourists or international governmental astronauts. If Turkey for example needs to choose between buying astronaut tickets on SpaceX or Roscosmos, it will lean toward Roscosmos because that was where its astronauts were trained.

Bridenstine will ask Russia for explanation about drill hole

NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine, when asked by journalists about the decision by Russia to keep secret the origins of the drill hole in a Soyuz capsule that caused a leak on ISS, said he will politely beg Russia for some answers.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine vowed Thursday to speak to the head of the Russian space agency after reports that the cause of a hole found on the International Space Station last year would be kept secret.

But he was careful to point out that he doesn’t want this situation to destroy the country’s relationship with Russia, a partner in space since 1975. “They have not told me anything,” Bridenstine told the Houston Chronicle during a question and answer session at a Houston energy conference. “I don’t want to let one item set (the relationship) back, but it is clearly not acceptable that there are holes in the International Space Station.”

Sure, let’s not offend those Russians so we can keep flying Americans on their capsules, even though they won’t tell us who drilled a hole in a Soyuz capsule prior to launch, then patched it badly so that it began leaking after a few months in space.

This kind of logic could only make sense in Washington government circles.

Roscosmos creates new design bureau to build reusable rocket

The Russian bureaucracy marches on! Roscosmos has formed a new design bureau, dubbed Bartini after Italian-born Soviet-era aircraft designer Robert Bartini, to build a new reusable rocket

The article says this rocket will be “based on the preliminary design of the Krylo-SV (Wing) project.” I cannot find any references anywhere for such a project, though this webpage notes that a test pilot for the Soviet Buran shuttle worked in 1999 for a “Krylo Company.” I suspect this was one of the many failed attempts to form a private space company after the fall of the Soviet Union, and it had produced designs for a reusable winged spacecraft, which is why that test pilot had worked for them. (It likely failed because the big already existing organizations in Russia teamed up with the government to squelch this new competition.)

Regardless, it appears that Russia is going to dust off those plans. Note that this new organization is a top-down creation, not a new independent company. I expect therefore that its biggest goal is to provide jobs. Whether it gets much built is another story.

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.

Russian company announces plan to enter suborbital tourism industry

Capitalism in space? A new Russian company, CosmoCourse, claims it will be flying a reusable suborbital capsule for tourism and science by 2023, with manned flights to follow in 2025.

CosmoCourse is developing a reusable spacecraft for sub-orbital tourist flights. A crew of six persons and an instructor is expected to make a 15-minute flight to an altitude of about 200 km. The preparations for the flight will take one day. The first manned flight is planned for 2025.

The CosmoCourse chief executive earlier told TASS that the company had signed a contract with the Nizhny Novgorod Region in the Volga area on cooperation in the project of creating the first private spaceport in Russia. The corresponding documents were submitted to Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos for approval. [emphasis mine]

I strongly suspect that this story will fall into the pile of hundreds of other stories that have come from Russian in the past two decades, promising much but in the end delivering nothing. The company appears to be just a piece of paper selling itself in the hope of raising investment capital. In Russia however such capital does not exist, as everything related to space is controlled by Roscosmos, as indicated by the highlighted text. To get built, this company must convince Roscosmos to fund it. And since its proposals will be a direct threat to the already established “companies” under Roscosmos’s control, I doubt the Russian space agency will be inclined to approve this competitive effort. The players in power will determine who gets the money, and it won’t be any new startups.

A Russian speaks truth to power about Roscosmos

Link here. The article outlines the obvious Russian ambivalence towards the success of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule this week, and then provides some insightful comments about this ambivalence from a Russian.

One person who would probably know is Vadim Lukashevich, a Russian-based space expert. He was fired from an aerospace think tank at Skolkovo in 2015 after writing articles opposing the transformation of Roscosmos from a government agency into a state corporation. On Monday, he gave an interview to Russian television station Moscow 24, which was published on YouTube and translated for Ars by Robinson Mitchell.

Lukashevich then proceeds to describe what readers of Behind the Black already know, but in much greater detail: The Soyuz capsule is outdated and cannot compete technologically or economically with SpaceX’s Dragon. Their business model of earning money by selling seats on it is over. And the Russian government is apparently unable or unwilling to do what must be done to make them competitive again. Its decision to form a single giant government-controlled aerospace corporation to run Russia’s entire space industry has failed, and they seem unable to recognize this.

High Russian officials lambast Roscosmos and its head

At a meeting earlier this week several high Russian officials sharply criticized both Roscosmos and its head, Dmitry Rogozin, for repeatedly predicting grand future successes even as the state of the Russian space program worsens.

On Wednesday, the prime minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, expressed his displeasure with the situation. During a meeting in Moscow with senior Roscosmos officials, Medvedev made sharply critical remarks that were reported by several Russian news organizations, including Gazeta.RU and RIA Novosti. (Translations were provided to Ars by Robinson Mitchell).

“This is a blunt and direct assertion: We need to quit projecting future plans, stop talking about where our missions will land in 2030, get to work, talk less, and do more,” Medvedev said. “We need to be more active in commercializing our space industry and increase Russia’s international market share of commercial launches.” [emphasis mine]

Medvedev as well as Russia’s deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov were blunt in noting that Roscosmos has done a bad job of competing in the commercial launch market, even as it made empty “grandiose projections” of its future deep space exploration plans.

Whether these criticisms will have any significant effect remains to be seen. Russia has structured its entire space industry into a single government-run corporation. Within Russia there is no competition, and everything is run from the top down. Such a set-up discourages innovation and risk-taking, the very things Russia needs for it to successfully compete on the world stage.

Imagine you are a young Russian guy with a clever idea for building smallsats in your basement. Or you are a young rocket engineer who has an idea about building rockets better. In Russian neither of these guys would be free to do anything, as all space projects must be supervised by Roscosmos. Roscosmos however is a government bureaucracy, and such bureaucracies are routinely loath to take risks and give power and opportunity to new people outside its power structure. Your project would either be squashed, or co-oped by the powers-in-charge so that it would not fly, as intended.

We see this in NASA today, with its decades-long resistance to new space companies like SpaceX. Fortunately, the U.S. aerospace industry has not been consolidated into a single government entity, run by NASA. Nor can it be, at least for now. The Constitution prevents government from doing this, while the political system allows for competition, even among politicians. The result has been that political appointees in both the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations have over the past dozen years pushed the idea of reducing NASA’s control over space, and have thus made possible the arrival of a viable commercial and very competitive space industry.

In Russia, under Putin, they did exactly the opposite in 2015, ending competition and consolidating their industry under full government control. The results since have not been pretty. In 2015 Russia led the world in launches with 34. In 2018 they only launched fifteen times, the lowest total for that country since the 1960s.

Nor do I expect this trend to change in the near future, notwithstanding the blunt talk above by Russia’s leaders. At least for the next decade, I expect Russia to be a very minor player in space.

Investigators uncover extensive corruption in Roscosmos

An investigation of Roscosmos by Russian prosecutors has revealed extensive violations of law, all of which occurred in only the last year and a half.

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has detected systemic legal violations in the work of State Space Corporation, Roscosmos, between 2017 and the first half of 2018. In total, 1,700 violations had been revealed, Official Spokesman Alexander Kurennoy said, adding that 16 criminal cases had been launched.

“During the period between 2017 and the first six months of 2018, documents on the activities conducted by the previous management of Roscosmos had been reviewed. Systemic violations of the law had been detected, particularly regarding the state’s defense procurement, with research and development work having been conducted improperly. This also concerns the area linked to state-of-the-art engineering, and where work on registering patents on intellectual property is carried out, they had been often disrupted. This includes the deadline of defense missions, where evidence of poor-quality products being supplied had been revealed,” he told reporters.

Furthermore, prosecutors had revealed violations of procurement legislation, namely when it comes to pricing and import substitution. “Also, the situation in the rocket and space industry in general was deemed unsatisfactory since the corporation hadn’t enacted the required controls for the appropriate expenditure of budget funds by all of the enterprises’ branches,” Kurennoy stressed.

I expect this situation in Russia will get far worse, as the corruption is a feature, not a bug, in their government-run centralized aerospace industry.

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