Tag Archives: Russia

Russia to launch two more American astronauts on Soyuz

A news report from Russia today announced that NASA has extended its contract with Roscosmos so that two more American astronauts will fly to ISS using a Soyuz rocket and capsule.

Russia and the United States have agreed on two additional places on board of Soyuz carrier rockets for journeys of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), Roscosmos Executive Director for Manned Programs Sergei Krikalyov told TASS. “The documents have been approved,” Krikalyov said adding that it the procedure to sign the papers took place before a recently reported incident with Crew Dragon spacecraft.

According to Krikalyov, there was no new draft of the document as it was “Simply an update to the previously signed contract, everything was in work order and there was no solemn ceremony to mark the signing of the documents.”

This agreement practically guarantees that there will be no Americans flying on American-built spacecraft in 2019. Rather than push SpaceX and Boeing to get their technical problems solved quickly so they can start flying, NASA can continue to slow-walk their development by going to the Russians. For NASA bureaucrats, using the Russians is to their advantage. Any failures can be blamed on the Russians, not NASA due diligence, which would be the case if an American privately-built capsule failed.

Moreover, slow-walking the American spacecraft helps NASA avoid further embarrassment with its own manned system, SLS/Orion, which is years behind schedule. By slowing the private capsules, the delays with SLS/Orion won’t seem so bad.

In other words, NASA’s approach here favors itself and the Russians over the interests of our country and American private companies. It is too bad no one in the Trump administration notices, or cares.

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Settlement reached in lawsuit about private lunar mission

A lawsuit filed in 2017 by a man who had paid Space Adventures a $7 million deposit for a ticket to fly on a Soyuz rocket around the Moon has now been settled

McPike, an Austrian businessman and adventurer who lives in the Bahamas, filed the original suit in May 2017, seeking the return of a $7 million deposit he paid to Space Adventures for a $150 million seat on a Soyuz mission that would go around the moon, and additional damages. The defendants in the suit included Space Adventures; Tom Shelley, the company’s president; and Eric Anderson, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

According to McPike’s suit, he contacted Space Adventures in July 2012 about the possibility of flying on a mission around the moon that the company had been promoting for several years. In March 2013, he signed an agreement committing to participate in such a mission, and paid an initial deposit of $7 million towards the $150 million total price with the expectation that the mission would take place within six years.

McPike was scheduled to make a second deposit of $8 million one year after contract signing, but he postponed that because of concerns he had regarding the limited progress on developing the mission, including lack of information from the Russian companies and agencies that would carry out it. Space Adventures terminated the agreement in March 2015 after McPike failed to make that payment and retained his $7 million deposit.

According to his suit, McPike later contacted the Russian space agency Roscosmos directly, and was informed that, contrary to the contract he signed, there was no formal relationship between the agency and Space Adventures for a circumlunar mission, that that the proposed mission was only in the “preliminary planning phase” along with several other future projects.

The details of the settlement were not released.

The article also provides near the end a nice summary of all recent private attempts to fly humans around the Moon, including SpaceX’s now ongoing plan to fly a Japanese businessman in 2023 using its Starship upper stage.

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Actor wins Ukraine election

Actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy has won the Ukrainian elections, beating the incumbent president Petro Poroshenko 73.2 to 25.3 per cent.

The official returns have not been released. These results come from exit polls. However, Poroshenko has already conceded defeat.

What happens next will be most interesting. We shall find out if Zelenskiy is the reformer he claims to be.

This article, describing a sense of frustration in Russia and Belarus because such a free election could not happen in their countries, suggests the peaceful transition of rule in Ukraine could have ramifications in its neighboring countries.

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NASA announces ISS manned launch schedule through February 2020

In announcing its planned ISS manned launch schedule through February 2020, NASA revealed a schedule that calls for one female astronaut to spend almost eleven months in orbit, a new record, but no planned commercial manned launches during that period.

The planned record-setting mission would have Christina Koch spend 328 days in space.

Koch, who arrived at the space station March 14, and now is scheduled to remain in orbit until February 2020, will set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, eclipsing the record of 288 days set by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson in 2016-17. She will be part of three expeditions – 59, 60 and 61 – during her current first spaceflight. Her mission is planned to be just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut – 340 days, set by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission in 2015-16.

Part of the reason that NASA will do this is to gather more data on the long-term effects of weightlessness. Much of this research is repeating and confirming what the Russians already did on Mir more than two decades ago, but with today’s more sophisticated knowledge. It is also exactly what we should be doing on ISS, from the beginning. That NASA has only started to do it now, two decades after ISS’s launch, is somewhat frustrating.

NASA is also extended Koch’s stay to give itself breathing room should the first manned flights of its commercial manned capsules, Dragon from SpaceX and Starliner from Boeing, get delayed. This schedule does not include manned missions from either, but that only illustrates the difference between NASA’s operational and test schedules. I expect that the first manned Dragon flight will occur in 2019, and that SpaceX will be able to begin manned operations before Koch returns.

Boeing is farther behind. It is unclear right now when it will do its first manned launch.

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UAE names astronaut to fly to ISS in September

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has named the man who will fly on a Soyuz rocket in September to become that country’s first astronaut.

“The Emirati astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori will fly for an eight-day space mission to ISS aboard a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft on 25 September 2019,” the organization said in a Twitter post late on Friday.

The UAE astronaut’s flight to the ISS is scheduled for September 25. He will spend about a week on board the ISS and will return back to the Earth with the Soyuz crew. Currently, there are two Emirati nationals prepping for the flight in the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. The other astronaut, Sultan Al Neyadi, will serve as a backup.

No background was given on this man, but we will find out more with time.

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Progress freighter launches and docks with ISS

Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS, docking two orbits later.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 China
3 SpaceX
3 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. still leads the pack in the national rankings 6 to 3.

This list will change, as there is a Arianespace Soyuz commercial launch scheduled for later today.

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Russians routinely disrupt GPS data in sensitive areas

According to one report, in the past three years the Russians have routinely and successfully fed fake GPS data to units at locations the Russians consider sensitive or of high priority.

The report — published by the Center for Advanced Defense (C4ADS), a nonprofit intelligence firm focused on worldwide security issues — found that at least 9,883 instances of spoofing occurred near sensitive areas in Russia and Crimea and during times when high-ranking officials, such as President Vladamir Putin, were present. In addition, the data showed that spoofing regularly occurred near Khmeimim Airbase in Syria during Russian operations there.

The findings underscore the dangers of relying on global positioning data, such as that provided by the global positioning system and similar technology across the globe, because the service can be disrupted or co-opted to deliver false data, says one author of the C4ADS report, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The story also described one case where researchers at the University of Texas in Austin:

were able to build a device for less than $1,000 to spoof the position of a ship and cause it to change course. “The ship actually turned, and we could all feel it, but the chart display and the crew saw only a straight line,” said Todd Humphreys, assistant professor of the department of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, at the time.

None of this should surprise anyone. It does however underline the need for there to be alternative navigational systems available. Ship’s crews should have a sextant available and should know how to use it. Missiles and airplanes similarly should have a backup system to check their GPS against.

And hikers and drivers should never totally rely on their GPS. Use it as a map, for guidance, but always verify its suggestions with common sense.

Hat tip reader Stephen Taylor.

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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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Rogozin: Investigation into Soyuz sabotage to continue on ISS

In his remarks to journalists today Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin also said that the Russian investigation into the hole that was drilled in a Soyuz capsule last year is not over, and that they plan to do further “experiments” on ISS.

“The samples collected on the ISS are insufficient for final conclusions. Apparently, additional experiments in orbit will be required,” Rogozin said.

What those “additional experiments in orbit” will be was not explained. I suspect he is referring to the security cameras the Russians are installing on their part of ISS, with the hope of catching the saboteur in the act.

What I think is going on here is that they have not been able to uncover who did this on the ground, and are now trying to imply it might have been sabotage by a U.S. astronaut. Rogozin can’t say this outright, because he wants to keep good relations with the U.S. in the partnership on ISS. He can hint at it, however, and let his own press run with it.

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Russia offers to take over ISS if US exits

How kind of them! Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, told journalists today that Russia has formulated a proposal to take over ISS operations completely should the U.S. withdraw from the station.

“This is Roscosmos’ proposal. We believe that we can keep the station in case the Americans decide to withdraw from this project, through other countries and partners. We have technological and technical capabilities to keep the station on the orbit and fully provide both electric energy and water there,” Rogozin said.

Roscosmos’ director general explained that the Russian section may add new modules on the basis of the Science-Power Module (SPM), the first version of which will be launched to the station in 2022. “Here the Russian Federation has a unique opportunity. We can duplicate the SPM. Its design makes it possible to turn into home for other states – there can be the SPM-2, SPM-3, SPM-4, they may grow further, extending the international part of the station. We formulated this proposal, and we suggest our new partners doing it,” Rogozin said. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text reveals Russia’s real goal. They take over station operations, and then sell to other nations modules for the station. Does the UAE want its own space station manned program? Buy a Russian-built module of your own, get it attached to ISS, and “Voila!” you have a very sophisticated and relatively permanent in-space facility all your own. And Russia will provide you the manned ferrying services!

This idea makes great sense. The Russians could even do it should the U.S. stick with ISS. It allows them to offer something far superior to the private, small, and short-lived separate station modules that a variety of private American companies are developing and offering for purchase or rent.

Of course, NASA could do the same, by allowing our private companies to attach modules of their own to ISS, for their own purposes. Historically, however, NASA’s management has been hostile to private enterprise, and in the past has frequently acted to oppose independent commercial activities on ISS. For example, when Russians wanted to fly Dennis Tito to ISS NASA strongly opposed this, and tried to stop it.

NASA has been changing in the past decades, however, so it could be that if the Russians push this hard, the competition could help the factions in NASA who are favor of private and free competition gain control of station management.

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Rogozin: Russia and U.S. to use both countrys’ manned capsules to ISS

According to statements made today by Roscosmos head Dmitri Rogozin, Russia and the United States now plan to send their astronauts to ISS using both the Russian and American capsules.

“We agreed with the NASA leadership to preserve our agreements and principles of cooperation. Astronauts will fly on board Soyuz, and we will use US spacecraft,” he said, adding that US spacecraft will need to get certification first.

According to the Roscosmos head, this will create an alternative in manned space missions to the International Space Station.

This suggests that once the U.S. commercial capsules are operational the two countries will return to the situation that existed when the shuttle was flying, with Americans sometimes flying on Russian spacecraft and Russians sometimes flying on American spacecraft. Under that set-up however, there was no direct payment by the U.S. for its seats on those Russian spacecraft, since it was a straight embargo deal.

Will this be the case now? We shall see. NASA for the past two decades has increasingly worked to keep the Russian space effort operating, sometimes even to the detriment of American efforts.

If Russia no longer gets money from the U.S. for its space flights it simply might not be able to afford to fly. We really won’t need them, but for a number of reasons we might decide to pay them to keep them in the game, both from a foreign policy perspective as well as some underhanded motives that are divorced from considerations of the national interest.

Unfortunately, separating these two issues has become increasingly difficult, especially because of the spreading corruption that is taking over the Washington establishment. This establishment more and more cares little for this country. Instead, it puts its own interests and power first, often in direct violation of the Constitution and the fundamental principles that founded the United States. Under these conditions that establishment might decide it is better to help the Russians, even if it hurts America and its citizens.

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Russia successfully launches manned Soyuz to ISS

Update: The Soyuz rocket has successfully placed the manned Soyuz capsule into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

3 SpaceX
3 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 4 to 3 in the national rankings.

Initial post: The Russians are right now counting down to a 3:14 pm (eastern) manned Soyuz launch to ISS.

A live video stream of the launch is available at the link from both NASA and the Russians. I have embedded the Russian stream below the fold. It has little narration, and so avoids the annoying propaganda stuff that the NASA feed is littered with.

This manned launch is a bit more interesting in that it is attempting to put in space the three astronauts who were on the aborted October launch. This is also only the second manned Soyuz launch since that abort, so there remains a bit of nervousness about it.
» Read more

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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.

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Increased isopropyl alcohol detected at ISS following Dragon docking

The Russian press today announced that there was a significant increase in the amount of isopropyl alcohol detected in the atmosphere of ISS following docking and opening of the hatch of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

While obviously this needs to be investigated, there are several details the Russian press leaves out. First, what normally happens when a manned capsule or new module arrives and the hatch opens? I suspect we always see a jump in readings for a wide range of atmospheric components. Second, what harm does this increase in ispropyl alcohol have to the station, its experiments, or its occupants? I suspect none, though obviously if it could be avoided that would be better.

Once again, we need to be aware that the Russians motives here might not be entirely pure. They have political and economic reasons to work against a success by SpaceX, and articles such as this reflect that. Issues like this of course need to be checked out and fixed if possible or necessary, but the goal of this article might not be that at all.

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Russia’s first 2019 launch has launch issues

Russia’s first launch in 2019, putting an Egyptian Earth observation satellite in orbit with their Soyuz rocket, has had problems reaching its planned orbit.

Fregat is released shortly afterwards, firing its S5.98M engine to inject EgyptSat-A into an initial transfer orbit. Fregat will likely make a second burn following a coast phase – typically around 45 minutes after the first burn – circularise the orbit. After this burn EgyptSat-A separated, and Fregat will make an additional deorbit burn to dispose of itself into the atmosphere.

It was during the Fregat burn that Russian media reported it was tracking in a lower orbit than planned, although various reports point to the issue occurring during either the third stage flight or during the first Fregat burn.

Amazingly, Roscosmos then noted the mission was a success, potentially achieved by Fregat burning longer to catch up with the shortfall.

Remember, this is the rocket and aerospace nation that NASA prefers to use to send our astronauts into space. This is the second launch problem during a Soyuz launch in less than six months.

The standings in the 2019 launch race:

2 China
1 SpaceX
1 ULA
1 Japan
1 India
1 Europe
1 Russia

The U.S. and China remain tied at 2 in the national rankings. A SpaceX launch is set for tonight however.

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Russia signs contract for two more tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Russia has signed a new contract with the American company Space Adventures to send two more tourist flights to ISS, this time at the same time on one Soyuz capsule near the end of 2021.

The article says that the contract is funding the construction of the rocket and capsule.

This deal suggests to me that NASA’s slow-walking of the American private manned effort has resulted in those private companies losing business to the Russians. Had both SpaceX and Boeing been able to launch their capsules by now, as I think they should have, it is quite likely that one of them might have gotten this deal. Instead, they can only look from the sidelines while Russia garners income using our space station.

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Belarus willing to remerge with Russia

The Russian empire resurgent: Belarus’s leader yesterday said his country is now willing to re-unite with Russia.

Putin has built his reputation as the man who added territory to the Russian Federation, not one who allows it to be taken away. However, there is a higher calling in a formal union of the two countries. It seems the Kremlin may believe that upon such a real union, the Russian constitution becomes ‘invalid’ and guess what, the new country needs a new president – none other than Vladimir Putin! Those pesky term limits of the old constitution will no longer be a problem.

“The two of us could unite tomorrow, no problem,” Lukashenko said in a video shared by a Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid Kremlin reporter on Twitter Friday, reported The Moscow Times.

Russia has been applying strong pressure to force Belarus back into its fold, and it appears that pressure is working. And as the article correctly notes, nations neighboring Russia should be prepared for the same treatment.

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Rather than use American manned capsules, NASA is considering buying more Soyuz astronaut flights

Because of the delays imposed by its safety panel in the development of two American-made manned capsules, NASA is now considering buying more Soyuz astronaut flights from Russia.

Past experience has shown the difficulties associated with achieving first flights on time in the final year of development. Typically, problems will be discovered during these test flights. The consequences of no US crew on ISS warrant protection by acquiring additional seats. The absence of U.S. crewmembers at any point would diminish ISS operations to an inoperable state,” noted a procurement document published on February 13.

NASA is considering contracting with the State Space Corporation “Roscosmos” for these services on a sole source basis for two (2) Soyuz seats and associated services to the International Space Station (ISS) on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft vehicle. This transportation would be for one crewmember in the Fall of 2019 and one crewmember in the Spring of 2020.

Remind me again: What country does NASA work for? From this I think it is Russia, not the United States. The agency has no problem putting its astronauts on a Soyuz rocket, even though Russia has had chronic quality control problems that not only caused a Soyuz launch abort last year but also had someone drill a hole in a manned capsule, an act of sabotage that Russia has still not explained or solved.

Meanwhile, it slow-walks and delays in any manner it can the manned efforts of two American companies, so that it is forced to use Russian rockets. This is unconscionable. Where is Trump, the “America-First” guy? Why isn’t he stepping in and putting an end to this political gamesmanship that clearly favors a foreign power over American companies?

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NASA extends Soyuz contract to maintain ISS presence through 2020

Faced with self-imposed delays of the launch of the privately-built manned capsules of Boeing and SpaceX, NASA has now arranged to stretch out the launch schedule of its last few Soyuz manned missions in order to maintain a presence on ISS.

According to Russian sources:

“The following scheme is planned for now: two NASA astronauts will remain on the ISS for nine months instead of the usual six. So, Nick Hague starts his mission on March 14 [2019] on the Soyuz MS-12 and returns to Earth on 18 December on the Soyuz MS-13, while Andrew Morgan will travel to the orbital station on Soyuz MS-13 on 6 July and will return on Soyuz MS-15 in April 2020″, the source said.

In the end it does appear that NASA can no longer slow-walk these American commercial manned capsules. When April 2020 rolls around, they must be operational or we will have no astronauts on board our own space station.

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The story of an American family that moved to Russia

Link here. Russia has enormous problems, and I would be the last person to suggest leaving the United States to live there. Nonetheless, it is very instructive to read this article and the detailed explanation given by the father, Hal Freeman, as to why they moved.

The traditional values, the loss of which many in America are lamenting, are largely the values of the Russian culture in which I live. I do not write as someone who has been told this. I live here. The Russian Orthodox Church has a strong influence on local life. There are also active Catholic and Protestant churches in my town. The Church and State work together at a national level. For example, both want to reduce the numbers of abortions which skyrocketed during the Communist era because abortion was commonly used for birth control. The Church has made a strong commitment to help women in “crisis pregnancies.” The laws are more restrictive now about when and for what reason abortions can be performed. Watching the news here after Gov. Cuomo signed the bill in New York permitting late term abortions, I was struck by the contrast between the agony of my Christian friends’ posts on Facebook and the smiles and celebrations of the governor and legislators in New York. Abortions are still performed in Russia, but the numbers are steadily declining and no one smiles, laughs or brags about them.

I realize many in America are very glad that the American government is intervening and the understanding of “morality” has changed radically. They applaud freedoms won for gay, lesbian, trans-gender and many other Americans who have been oppressed. They have the right to rejoice: They won. The Benedict Option is one way for those on the other “side” to adapt. Many have been and are living it out. Others, like me, decided it was not in our family’s best interest to risk the future of our children to stay. After the New York decision on abortion I received an e-mail from an American Orthodox mother asking questions about moving to Russia. She realized the struggles involved in such a move. She wrote, however, “We have to move. No matter how well we are doing in home schooling and church, we cannot keep the government out of the lives of our children.”

If you wish to be an adult, it requires you to be brutally honest about life, pushing aside your emotions to rationally think about the world around you. This article places that demand upon ordinary but moral Americans, especially those living in leftist-controlled regions on the coasts and big urban cities. Are the political policies being pursued in those places going to make the future good or bad for your children? Freeman decided they would not, and for the sake of his kids he moved.

Not everyone can move, or should. Instead, I would advocate Americans look hard at these modern leftist policies and begin the fight to stop them, here and now. Our children’s future depends on it. If we do not, they will find themselves starving in a place not unlike today’s bankrupt socialist Venezuela.

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Russian engineers fix microhole in Soyuz upper stage

Russian engineers have successfully fixed the microhole that had been discovered in the fuel line of the Freget upper stage of a Soyuz rocket being prepped for an Arianespace commercial launch in French Guiana.

This quick repair suggests that the launch will not be delayed as much as first believed.

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Because of Russian violations, U.S. withdraws from nuclear arms treaty

The United States announced today that it is withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because of numerous and long-standing violations by Russia.

[Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo explained that Russia has been violating the treaty for years, and despite those violations, the U.S. has attempted to maintain the agreement. “To this day, Russia remains in material breach of its treaty obligations not to produce, possess, or flight test a ground-launched intermediate cruise missile system with a range between 500 and 5500 kilometers,” Pompeo explained. “We have raised Russia’s noncompliance with Russian officials, including at the highest levels of government, more than 30 times, yet Russia continues to deny that its missile system is noncompliant and violates the treaty,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo said Russia’s violation of the treaty has compromised U.S. security interests. “It’s our duty to respond appropriately,” Pompeo said. “When an agreement is so brazenly disregarded, and our security is so openly threatened, we must respond.”

The announcement comes one day ahead of the 60-day deadline the U.S. gave Russia to return to compliance with the treaty.

The treaty calls for a six month period following this announcement for the withdrawal to be completed.

Though the announcement mentions a specific “a prohibited missile system,” it does not say what that missile system is. I suspect it might be the hypersonic missile the Russians have tested and say they will deploy this year.

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A close look at Russia’s Vostochny spaceport

Link here. The article provides an excellent overview of the spaceport, its history, its corruption. It also gives some detailed information how the spaceport is affecting the remote cities nearby. This quote however is telling:

Across the space faculty and university at large, signs are written in Russian and in Chinese. Exchange students from across the river flock here in droves, and students participate in countless scientific and engineering projects with Chinese students. It is a very clear reflection of growing talk among Russian leadership that the country’s future in space does not lay in cooperation with NASA and the West, but with the ascendant Chinese space program.

Indeed, in the halls of Amur State University, the rich history of U.S.-Russia space rivalry and cooperation has already been relegated to the various rooms set aside as little space history museums. Something for students to ponder and reflect upon as they go about planning presentations for their next student scientific congress with their Chinese peers. Caught between the pull of Vostochny and China, these students have discovered hope for a future of opportunity in space.

This makes sense. Russia’s aerospace industry is in trouble. Worse, any future dependence on NASA’s very dubious lunar Gateway project to save it is questionable. China however is closer, and has a thriving and very successful space program. It would make sense for Russia to switch its partnership from the U.S. to China. Whether China is interested remains an open question.

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Problem found with Soyuz set for Arianespace commercial launch

Russian engineers have found a problem with Freget upper stage used on their Soyuz rocket and set for an Arianespace commercial launch in French Guiana this spring.

According to the source, “a microhole has been found in one of the upper stage’s pipes, which apparently emerged during a long transportation of the booster to the spaceport in French Guiana.”

“Now the specialists of the Lavochkin Research and Production Association [Fregat’s manufacturer] are dealing with this malfunction, by the end of the week they should specify the types of the works needed for eliminating it,” the source said.

The launch may be postponed from late February until March due to this situation.

This problem might not be related to Russia’s ongoing quality control problems. It could simply be a consequence of the difficulty of shipping a rocket across the globe. At the same time, the thought must not be dismissed. They say the microhole occurred during transport, but there is no way to confirm this.

Either way, the problem and delay does not do the Russians good. I wonder if OneWeb, the commercial customer for this flight, is beginning to have regrets about its contract for 21 Soyuz launches to get a large percentage of its satellite constellation into orbit.

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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.

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Contract cancelled for Vostochny launchpad for Angara

The coming dark age: The Russian government has cancelled its construction contract for the much delayed Vostochny launchpad for their new much delayed Angara rocket.

Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, who curates the space and defense industry for the Russian government, announced the news on January 23 after the latest meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev dedicated to financial problems at Roskosmos. Medvedev singled out Vostochny as a symptomatic example of poor management at the State Corporation. Only five out of 19 facilities were officially completed in Vostochny in the first phase of construction by the deadline last year, Medvedev said, according to the public recap of the meeting released by the Russian government.

After the closed-door event, Borisov told journalists that the aborted contract on the Angara pad cost the project at least six months in delays, but, he essentially admitted that the actual completion of the critically needed facility would be pushed back by around two years. “Let’s not have any illusions, nobody will be able to build (Angara pad) by 2021,” Borisov told reporters about the recent official deadline for the project, “Today, due to the juggling of prime contractors, the deadline is beyond 2021, but it (has to be) no later than 2023, because otherwise, it would be desynchronized with the development of the rocket, which would be ready but no place to launch from.”

These problems suggest that the corruption in Russia’s aerospace industry must be incredibly embedded. They, like our own incompetent federal government, can’t seem to get anything accomplished.

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Problem found with Angara’s most powerful version

The new colonial movement: Engineers of the most powerful variant of Russia’s next generation Angara family of rockets, the Angara A5, have found a serious design issue in the engines that they appear to be having problems solving.

The issue with the Angara A5 was brought to attention by scientists at rocket engine manufacturer Energomash in a paper ahead of a space conference later this month.

The paper, reported by RIA news agency on Friday and published online, said the engines of the Angara A5 could produce low frequency oscillations that could ultimately destroy the rocket.

A special valve had been fitted to mitigate the issue, but in some cases the oscillations continued, it said. Energomash did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

This sounds to me like “pogo,” a somewhat common issue with rockets. A resonance builds up within the engines during launch, and the vibration can grow strong enough to cause serious damage. The Saturn 5 had this issue during its second test launch, requiring a redesign of the upper stage engine hydrogen fuel lines.

With this history in mind, I would still not make that much of a big deal about this issue. The Angara A5 is a new rocket. It simply needs testing in flight followed by engineering revisions to work out these kinks.

The problem will be Russia’s government. Putin wants this rocket flying, for his own political purposes, and the question remains whether he will allow its proper engineering development to proceed at the correct pace. This does not mean development should be slow, but that failure is accepted and allowed for while you maintain a fast pace.

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Russia faces launchpad bottleneck in 2020

Because of the decommissioning of one of their two Soyuz launchpads at Baikonur in late 2019, the Russians will have a significant launchpad bottleneck in 2020.

According to the official, the so-called Gagarin’s Start launch launchpad at the site number 1 would be put out of exploitation due to the upcoming decommissioning of the Soyuz-FG rocket.

The source noted that a large number of Soyuz launches planned for 2020 was related to the implementation of the OneWeb internet satellite constellation project, which would require up to eight launches. Moreover, from five to seven launches of manned missions on Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as several launches of unmanned spacecraft have been planned.

The source continued by saying there was a “bottleneck” in the capacity of the testing facility at the launch site 31, which amounted to 15 rockets per year.

It appears that this limitation of 15 launches per year is going to put a crimp on something. Since the Russians will make money on the OneWeb launches, those will get first priority. What next? The unnamed additional launches almost certainly include some military satellites, as well as communications, Glonass GPS, and Earth resource satellites needed by Russia. Will they get sacrificed to maintain Russian launches to ISS? If the U.S. is no longer flying our astronauts on their rockets and paying them for it, I can see them cutting back here to fly some of those other satellites.

Either way, for Russia to be cutting back on launch sites at a time when the rocket industry appears to be booming is a clear sign of big problems there. I suspect that they had intended the Vostochny spaceport to pick up this slack, but the corruption and delays there apparently make that impossible. Moreover, they have lost most of their commercial business, and appear unable to figure out ways to recapture it.

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Russian Soyuz launches 28 satellites

A Russian Soyuz rocket today launched 28 satellites, the bulk of which were commercial smallsats.

The primary payload was two Russian Earth observations satellites.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

37 China
21 SpaceX
15 Russia
11 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

This should close out Russia’s launch total for the year, that country’s lowest yearly total since the very beginnings of the space age in the 1960s.

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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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