Tag Archives: Russia

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.

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Russia ships three more engines to U.S. for ULA’s rockets

Russia announced yesterday that it has delivered three more RD-180 engines to ULA for use in its Atlas 5 rocket.

The article notes that this contract, as well as the contract with Northrop Grumman to make RD-181 engines for the Antares rocket, both end in December 2019. While ULA has said it plans to replace the Russia engine with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine (still under development), it is not clear what Northrop Grumman will do.

In both cases, Russia has delivered enough engines to cover launches for the next few years. This will give Blue Origin time to complete development of the BE-4. As for Antares, the lack of its Russian engine, combined with its inability to obtain any customers other than NASA, could spell the end of that rocket once Northrop Grumman has used up its engine stockpile.

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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.

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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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Russia strips Sea Launch platform of foreign equipment

In an effort to get the U.S. government to allow them to transport the Sea Launch platform from California to a Russia port in the far east, the Russians have now stripped the platform of all Boeing and Ukrainian equipment.

Originally built by a partnership of Russia, Ukraine, and Boeing, the platform is supposedly now owned by S7, a Russian airline company, but in truth it is controlled entirely by the Russian government, which wishes to refit it to launch the new Soyuz-5 rocket they are now developing.

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NASA in negotiations to buy more Russian Soyuz astronaut seats

Collusion with Russia discovered! NASA has begun negotiations with Russia’s Roscosmos space agency to buy more astronaut flights to ISS using Russia’s Soyuz rocket and capsule.

According to the story at the link, NASA’s last purchased ticket will fly in March of 2020, and these negotiations would buy flights beginning in the fall of 2020 and beyond into 2021. The story also cites statements by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to CNN, confirming these negotiations.

Apparently NASA thinks the manned capsules being built by Boeing and SpaceX will not be ready by the fall of 2020, and needs to buy tickets from Russia because of this.

However, the only reason those American capsules will not have been approved and flown by then will be because NASA’s timidity in approving their launch. The agency’s safety panel as well as its management have repeatedly delayed these private American capsules, sometimes for very strange reasons, including a demand that lots of paperwork be filled out, and what I consider to be an unjustified demand for perfect safety.

Had NASA adopted a reasonable criteria for launch, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule could have flown three years ago.

Meanwhile, NASA seems quite willing to put Americans on a Soyuz rocket, launched by a foreign power whose safety record in the past half decade has been spotty, at best. In that time Russia has experienced numerous quality control problems, including mistakes that led to an Soyuz abort during a launch and a Soyuz parachute failure during a landing, corruption that forced them to recall all rocket engines and freeze launches for almost a year, and sabotage where someone drilled a hole in a Soyuz capsule prior to launch, a sabotage that Russia still refuses to explain.

It is unconscionable for NASA to favor putting Americans on a Soyuz with many documented safety issues, but block the launch of Americans on American-made capsules, for imagined safety issues that have mostly made no sense. In fact, the contrast makes me wonder about the loyalty of NASA’s bureaucracy. They certainly seem to favor Russia and Roscosmos over private American companies.

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UAE astronaut completes telecast to UAE

The new colonial movement: The first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday completed his fifth day in orbit on ISS, answering questions from students during two telecasts.

The goal from the start for this mission was to encourage a new space agency in the UAE, thus diversifying its economy. These telecasts are clearly aimed at doing that.

His flight is about half over.

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Russia to reduce manned missions to ISS in 2020

According to a Roscosmos, Russia will halve the number of manned Soyuz missions it will fly to ISS in 2020, from the normal four per year that they have been doing since 2009 to only two.

The article provides little additional detail, other than those two flights will be in the second and fourth quarters of the year, and that there will be three Progress freighter launches as well.

In May the Russians had announced that NASA had agreed to buy two more astronaut tickets on Soyuz. Since then there have been two manned launches, one of which I think was covered by this purchase. If not, then both launches next year are to launch Americans to ISS, and that Russia will not launch otherwise.

Either way this information tells us two things. First, NASA is probably getting very close to finally approving the manned flights of Dragon and Starliner, after many delays by their safety panel.

Second, Russia’s reduction in launches suggests that they are short of funds, and can’t launch often without someone buying a ticket. It is unclear what they will do when the U.S. is no longer a customer. I suspect they will fly the minimum number of crew in the fewest flights while still allowing them to maintain their portion of the station. Periodically they will likely add a flight, when they sell a ticket to either a tourist or to another foreign country, as they are doing right now with an Soyuz-flown astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.

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Soyuz launches military surveillance satellite

Russia today completed its second Soyuz launch in twenty-four hours, launching the third in a constellation of military satellites designed to detect incoming missiles.

With this launch Russia has topped its total from 2018, and looks very likely finish the year with the most launches since 2016.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

18 China
16 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China 19 to 18 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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Three launches today, including launch of three astronauts and UAE’s first spaceman

Three launches today, by China, Japan, and Russia. China launched a Yunhai-1 weather satellite using its Long March 2D rocket. Japan in turn successfully launched, on its second attempt, its HTV cargo freighter to ISS. This was Japan’s second launch this year.

Finally, Russia has just successfully put three astronauts into orbit using its Soyuz rocket, including the first astronaut of the United Arab Emirates.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

18 China
15 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. lead over China in the national rankings is now 19 to 18.

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Russia and China to team up on lunar lander/orbiter missions

Russia and China have signed an agreement to cooperate on several future lunar lander and orbiter unmanned missions.

The agreements will see cooperation in Russia’s Luna-26 orbiter spacecraft and Chang’e-7 polar landing mission, according to Roscosmos, which could involve contributions of science payloads to the respective spacecraft. Both missions are currently scheduled for the early-to-mid 2020s.

The two sides also committed to previously announced plans to create a joint lunar and deep space data center, which will consist of hubs in both Russia and China.

How they will specifically cooperate on those specific space missions was not made clear. From what I can gather, the real heart of this agreement are those joint data centers for both missions.

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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.

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Problems fixed with next Russian ISS module

According to a report from Russia today, the problems with contamination in the fuel tanks for Russia’s next module to ISS, originally scheduled for launch in 2013, have finally been dealt with, and the launch can go forward.

“Original tanks will be used. They had successfully undergone all trials, all problems with them have been fixed. We are now receiving relevant documents,” one of the sources told TASS. He said the module is currently at the Khrunichev center, and the timeframe of finishing touches to it is now being coordinated.

Another source in the industry told TASS that although Nauka tanks were initially designed for multiple use, “they will be used only once – for the module’s docking with the space station.”

In other words, they weighed their options, and decided that limiting the tanks to only one use was better than trying to replace them. I suspect this is because the replacement was both very difficult and would have also delayed the launch so much that ISS might not have been orbit any longer.

A new launch date has not been announced. Previously Roscosmos had indicated 2020 as the date.

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Roscosmos knows but will not disclose cause of Soyuz drilled hole

According to a statement by Dmitri Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, the Russians now know what or who caused the drillhole in a Soyuz capsule, found when air began to leak from ISS in August 2018, but they will not reveal that information.

What happened is clear to us, but we won’t tell you anything”, Rogozin said at a meeting with the participants of a scientific youth conference. … We may have some secrets”, he said.

I wonder if NASA will accept this decision. I also wonder why this doesn’t raise the hackles of NASA’s safety panel, which seems so willing to stall the launch of American manned capsules for far less worrisome safety reasons, thus forcing us to use Russia’s Soyuz capsule instead.

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UAE’s first manned flight launches this week on Soyuz

This article provides a nice detailed Arab perspective on the upcoming September 25 launch of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first manned mission, sending one of their jet fighter pilots on a Soyuz to ISS for about a week.

The article not only also reviews the entire history of past Arab astronaut missions in space, the first on an American shuttle in 1985 and the second on a Soyuz in 1987, it summarizes the present-day space-related efforts throughout the Arab world, not just in the UAE. Good information in advance of this week’s upcoming launch.

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New Russia Soyuz spacesuits interfere with Russia pee tradition

Only in Russia: The newly designed Russian spacesuits for use by astronauts during ascent and descent in the Soyuz capsule apparently do not have a fly that will allow the continuation of a long-standing Russian tradition initiated by Yuri Gagarin on his way to the launchpad for his historic spaceflight.

The Sokol-M prototype suit was designed as a replacement for suits worn during launches to the International Space Station (ISS) on Soyuz spacecraft. … The maker of the suits, the aerospace firm Zvezda, says they will be made of new materials and adaptable to different body sizes.

But the new design makes it impossible to carry out one particular ritual launched by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, who had to relieve himself on the back wheel of the bus that was taking him to the launch pad in 1961.

The stop has been replicated at every launch from the Baikonur launch pad and, many male cosmonauts and astronauts pee on the tyre for good luck – something that would be impossible in the new suit, according to its maker. Female astronauts are not obligated to participate but some have brought vials of their urine to splash on the wheel instead.

“I’m not sure how they will be able to (carry on the tradition), since we haven’t designed the fly,” said the Zvezda director, Sergei Pozdnyakov, quoted by Russian agencies. “We have the design specifications. They don’t state that it’s necessary to pee on the wheel. The design specifications would need to be adapted.”

I suspect, knowing how important traditions and rituals are to the Russians, that the Russian government will require a design change to allow this tradition to continue.

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ISS atmosphere issue?

Though NASA and Roscosmos both say the crews are in no immediate danger, alarms on ISS have indicated an issue with the oxygen levels on the station.

“The crew and the space station are in no immediate danger and are continuing normal operations,” the spokesperson said. “The overall atmosphere inside the station remains will below the O2 concentration limits. Teams are working to identify the root cause of the issue,” he added.

This report states that the problem is “the high oxygen content in the air in the Russian Zvezda module.”

If the problem was a drop in atmospheric pressure, the issue would likely be more serious, and suggest a repeat of the 2018 leak caused by a hole drilled in a Soyuz capsule. That the problem instead is high oxygen levels, suggests something more benign.

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Russia’s Rockot launches military geodesic satellite

Russia today used its re-purposed ballistic missile, Rockot, to launch the second in a two-satellite constellation of military geodesic satellites, designed to more accurately map the Earth’s gravitational field.

This launch puts Russia in the lead in the annual race for most launches for the first time since 2018. It also gives them more launches for the year than they had predicted. Both facts demonstrate that their launch industry is showing a recovery from the problems experienced in 2016, when they discovered corruption in one of their main rocket engine companies, requiring the recall of all engines.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

14 Russia
13 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab
4 ULA

The U.S. still leads Russia in the national rankings, 19 to 14.

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Soyuz successfully docks to ISS on second attempt

An unmanned Soyuz capsule successfully docked to ISS tonight at a different docking port than the port where a failed component in the radar system caused the first attempt to be aborted two days ago.

This successful automatic docking confirms that the radar equipment on the other port was the problem. While manual manned dockings can occur there, the Russians will not be able to use it for unmanned Progress freighters until they get the faulty amplifier in the radar system fixed. To fix it will require a spare part and a spacewalk, and at the moment the Russians have said nothing about whether they have the part at the station.

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Russian astronauts move older Soyuz to clear port for new Soyuz

Russian astronauts today undocked their older Soyuz MS-13 Soyuz from its docking port and manually docked it to the port with the technical issue, thereby clearing a different but functioning port for the unmanned Soyuz MS-14 capsule that failed to dock last week.

From the report it sounds like the Russians also did a test during the manual docking of the problematic docking radar on the older port, but no information about this has been released.

The unmanned MS-14 Soyuz will now make its second automatic docking attempt tomorrow, using the the cleared port.

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Unmanned test Soyuz aborts docking to ISS

Astronauts on ISS were forced to abort the docking of an unmanned upgraded Soyuz capsule today when it appeared to have problems locking onto its docking port.

According to NASA, Soyuz MS-14 entered an orbit above and behind the ISS, which would bring the spacecraft back into the vicinity of the outpost 24 hours later. However within an hour after the failed docking, the mission control in Korolev told the ISS crew that the next docking attempt would not be made until at least August 26 after a series of tests. Head of flight operations in Korolev Vladimir Soloviev informed the cosmonauts that ground specialists had narrowed down a potential root cause of the failure during docking to a “bad signal amplifier” in the Kurs-P avionics system aboard the station. Soloviev instructed the crew to swap the suspected amplifier for a new one and then conduct a test of the Kurs-P system. Provided the ongoing analysis confirmed the initial failure scenario and the in-orbit tests went successfully, another rendezvous attempt could be made in around 48 hours, between 08:00 and 09:00 Moscow Time on August 26. Soloviev asked the crew members whether they knew where the components in question had been located to which the cosmonauts said that they had remembered it approximately but asked for reference photos to be sent to them.

Assuming this is the same docking port the Russians have used for previous Soyuz and Progress dockings, the amplifier would have had to fail since the last docking.

UPDATE: It appears that they are instead going to use a different Russian docking port on ISS for the second docking attempt, thereby bypassing the suspect docking system.

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Russia and ULA successfully complete rocket launches

Russia and ULA both successfully placed spacecraft into Earth orbit today.

Russia sent an unmanned upgrded Soyuz capsule to ISS, filled with cargo, in a test flight that also tested a new upgraded version of the Soyuz rocket.

According to Navias, this Soyuz launch is a critical shakedown flight to test the performance of the upgraded Soyuz capsule and the Soyuz 2.1a booster before the first crewed flight on the rocket in March 2020.

“The Soyuz 2.1a booster, equipped with a new digital flight control system and upgraded engines, is replacing the Soyuz FG booster that has been used for decades to launch crews into space,” NASA officials wrote in a statement. “The Soyuz spacecraft will have an upgraded motion control and navigation system, as well as a revamped descent control system,” they added.

The mission will also help Roscosmos develop a cargo version of the Soyuz capsule capable uncrewed reentry to return experiments and other gear to Earth, Navias said. Russia’s Progress cargo ships can currently only deliver supplies, and are filled with trash and discarded at the end of their missions.

ULA in turn launched an Air Force GPS satellite in the last launch of the Delta-4 Medium version of its Delta rocket family.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

13 China
13 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab
4 ULA

The U.S. leads Russia and China 19 to 13 in the national standings.

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ESA confirms ExoMars parachute test failure

You heard it hear first! The European Space Agency (ESA) today confirmed earlier stories from last week that the parachutes for its ExoMars 2020 spacecraft had failed during a high altitude drop test on August 5.

I reported this on Saturday, August 10, noting that ESA had not confirmed it. It apparently took them a week to write the press release.

This was the second consecutive test failure for these parachutes, as noted in the release.

On 28 May this year, the deployment sequence of all four parachutes was tested for the first time from a height of 29 km – released from a stratospheric helium balloon. While the deployment mechanisms activated correctly, and the overall sequence was completed, both main parachute canopies suffered damage.

Following hardware inspection, adaptations were implemented to the design of the parachutes and bags ready for the next high-altitude test, which was conducted on 5 August, this time just focusing on the larger, 35 m diameter, parachute.

Preliminary assessment shows that the initial steps were completed correctly, however damages to the canopy were observed prior to inflation, similar to the previous test. As a result, the test module descended under the drag of the pilot chute alone.

The tests occur at high altitude where the Earth’s atmosphere mimics the thin atmosphere of Mars. In both cases it appears the parachutes became damaged very early in their deployment process, possibly during deployment. This means there might be a design problem with the deployment process. It also means that both tests were unable to test the chutes themselves, as they were damaged before inflation, meaning that the engineers still do not know if they would work as intended once filled with air.

All this puts incredible time pressure on the mission, which needs to launch in the summer of 2020 to meet its launch window. There is very little time to redesign and retest these chutes. I would rate their chances of meeting that launch date as less than 50-50.

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Reports of another ExoMars parachute failure during test

Following a failure of ExoMars’ parachutes during a May test, there are now reports that a second failure occurred on August 5.

A fresh test of the parachute system for the Russian-European mission ExoMars-2020 have failed again as a structural mockup of the Russian-built lander crashed during the simulated landing, a source familiar with the test results told Sputnik.

The test with the use of a high-altitude balloon was carried out on August 5 at a Swedish Space Corporation’s test site in northern Sweden.

“Tests of the parachute system at the Esrange test site in Sweden failed. A full-size mockup of the landing module of the ExoMars-2020 Martian station crashed during the landing,” the source said.

I have seen this report in two other sites, but it has not yet been confirmed by the European Space Agency.

If these reports are true, the chances of ExoMars launching in July 2020 is likely almost nil. They haven’t even begun assembling the spacecraft, and have had two parachute failures in tests, with the second destroying the prototype used for those tests.

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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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Hundreds arrested in Moscow demonstrating for open elections

Continuing protests in Moscow demanding the right of independent candidates to run for election have resulted in hundreds of arrests in the past week.

I am very much reminded of the protests that led to the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The difference is that then the government did little to stop them, and then allowed their candidates to run for office, sweeping the communists from power.

Now, Putin’s government seems to be following China’s approach to such protests, which cracked down hard against its own protests in the early 1990s and was thus able to stay in power.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong China is faced with its own new protest movement, now in its ninth week. At this moment China has held off using its full military power to stop the protests, but that might change soon. If so, things will get very bloody.

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Russia denies OneWeb permission to operate in Russia

Russian government agencies this week denied permission to OneWeb to operate and provide internet services within Russia, even though Russia is launching a large bulk of OneWeb’s satellite constellation.

One agency denied them permission to use certain radio frequencies. Another has said no because it claims the satellites could be used for espionage. The first denial, in 2017, came from Roscosmos, which is also the agency launching OneWeb’s satellites.

The latest refusal of OneWeb was a sign that the country’s authorities remain keen to continue tightening their control of internet access, said Prof Christopher Newman at Northumbria University.

“[Satellite internet] presents an existential strategic threat to their trying to limit internet activity within their boundaries,” he told the BBC. “There are going to be large swathes of Russian territory… that are going to become very dependent on internet from space.”

Russia continues its sad slide back to Soviet-style authoritarianism and poverty.

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