Tag Archives: Vostochny

Faulty concrete at Vostochny launchpad caused by contractor

The faulty and spongy concrete that the Russians have discovered at the Vostochny Soyuz launchpad was caused when the contractor hurried the job as well as improperly laid the concrete.

“It was a mistake by the contractor Spetsstroi. The process of concrete laying was violated due to rush work,” the source said. “Spetsstroi laid the concrete in winter time in utterly unsuitable conditions and used drying fans.” The source said the cavities in concrete were identified more than a year and “continued to be eliminated by the public corporation itself until the contract with Adonis was concluded.

Part of the blame here falls not to the contractor but to Putin. He demanded that Roscosmos complete a launch at Vostochny in 2016, and to do so all the contractors at Vostochny had to scramble to get the job done. Apparently, this particular contractor was forced to cut corners improperly.

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More aerospace problems in Russia

Two stories out of Russia today suggest that the serious quality control problems plaguing its aerospace industry have not been brought under control.

According to the second article the launch delay is because a Russian satellite manufacturer is behind schedule and might not deliver needed parts for the satellite’s assembly in time. I suspect the delay might also be related to the first article, as this satellite will launch on the brand new launchpad where they have discovered the cavities below ground.

That these cavities were not pinpointed during construction is very troublesome. One of the reasons SpaceX’s Boca Chica launchsite in Texas is taking as long as it is getting built is that the company had to make sure the soft beach property was structurally sound for rocket launches. That the Russians missed this speaks poorly again of their quality control.

Delays are common in the rocket industry, but in the context of Russia’s other space-related problems, the delay suggests a wider problem.

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Russia begins construction of Angara launchpad at Vostochny

Russia has begun the construction of the first Angara launchpad at their new Vostochny spaceport.

According to earlier reports, the Angara launch pad is to be completed by December 31, 2022. Construction costs are estimated at nearly 39 billion rubles ($565 million).

Somehow it seems to me that this construction is too expensive and is taking too long. A launchpad is essentially a specialized building on the surface. I don’t see why it should be so difficult or expensive to do.

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Vostochny manager accused of overbuying cables

Russian investigators have now clarified the charges against one of the Vostochny managers, accusing him of overbuying unnecessary cables, manufactured by a company his family owns, so that they could pocket an extra $1.5 million in cash.

According to the investigators, Volkodav – by abusing his power as a head of General Military Works Department №6 – overbought cables that were unnecessary in the further construction of the spaceport at Vostochny Cosmodrome. The cables were bought in a Tsvetlit company (owned by his relatives) for the purposes of its enrichment. In fact, the bought-in goods were never used and are not an object of the contract signed by the General Military Works Department and the company. The former head’s actions caused losses to the tune of 104 million rubles ($1.5 million).

Volkodav’s lawyers have also noted that the actual amount involved is really about half a million dollars, as the contractor has paid back about a million.

While this might be a lot of money in Russia, the amounts and activities correspond roughly to the typical corruption that exists throughout the Putin government. I suspect that they are prosecuting this guy not to clean up corruption but to use him as a scapegoat for the overall problems the government has had building the Vostochny spaceport, including gigantic cost overruns, worker strikers, and endless schedule delays.

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The dying Russian space program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Former Vostochny head and comrades sentenced to jail

Several former top managers of the lead contractor building Russia’s new spaceport Vostochny have now been sentenced to prison for embezzlement.

Yury Khrizman, former head of Dalspetsstroy, and Vladimir Ashikhmin, the company’s former chief accountant, were found guilty of abuse of office and embezzlement, a court official told Interfax. Khrizman was sentenced to 12 years in jail and Ashikhmin received seven years in jail.

“The other people implicated in the case, Viktor Chudov, former chairman of the Khabarovsk Territory’s duma, and Mikhail Khrizman [the son of Yury Khrizman], also got jail terms. Viktor Chudov received six years in a penal colony and Mikhail Khrizman was sentenced to 5.5 years in jail,” the court official said. The court also ordered the convicts to pay 5.16 billion rubles in damage as part of the Roscosmos lawsuit, he said.

Not for an instant do I believe this case cleans out the corruption in Russia’s aerospace industry. All this does it to tell all present managers that if you are going to steal, don’t steal so much that you cause a delay in the project itself. The reason these guys are going to prison is that they got greedy and stole too much, thus causing the completion of Vostochny to be significantly late, with many of its workers not getting paid.

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Vostochny failure points to serious problems in Russian aerospace

This update on the launch failure at Vostochny last week suggests there are some very serious problems permeating the entire Russian aerospace industry.

According to a post on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine, the Fregat stage for the ill-fated first mission from Vostochny was originally built for the launch of the Rezonans scientific satellites from Baikonur.

At the same time, experts agree that the problem could theoretically have been resolved before launch, if not for the poor coordination between the developers of the flight control systems of the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle and their colleagues working on flight controls for the Fregat. As one poster on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki forum noted: in the deluge of pre-launch paperwork between RKTs Progress in Samara, which built Soyuz-2, and NPO Lavochkin, which developed Fregat, discussing a multitude of legal issues, confirming and reconfirming various agreements and reminders, there was not a single memo attracting the developers’ attention to a different alignment of the launch pad in Vostochny from that of other sites. Obviously, such information was buried in the working documentation on the mission, but nobody thought about the effect of this fact on the launch. The lower echelon of engineers simply missed that detail, while top managers had no idea at all, because, the majority of them lacked the necessary qualifications, the poster said. [emphasis mine]

Top managers who “lack the necessary qualifications?” This smacks of a corrupt hiring system having nothing to do with qualifications or the need to do good work. It also is typical of a government-run operation, which the entire Russian aerospace industry is after Putin consolidated it all into one single cooperation under government control in 2014. And prior to that the big Russian companies didn’t really operate under a system of free competition, but like mob gangsters they divided up the work among themselves and then worked together to prevent any new competition from forming.

I’m not sure how Russia is going to fix this. In a free market the solution would be for competition to produce new companies with fresh ideas, forcing the bad companies out of business. Putin’s consolidation combined with a Russian culture that does not seem to understand the idea of competition appear to make that process difficult, if not impossible.

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Second Soyuz launch from Vostochny a failure

The second Soyuz rocket launch from Russia’s new spaceport in Vostochny ended in failure this morning due to a problem with the rocket’s upper stage

It is presently unclear what happened. One Russian news report suggests “human error,” though I do not understand exactly what they mean by that. Either way, all 19 satellites, including a new Russian weather satellite and 18 smallsats, were lost.

For Russia, this failure comes at a bad time. Roscosmos had been striving to recover from last year’s recall of all rocket engines due to corruption at one of their factories. A new launch failure, especially if it is due to another engine issue, will not encourage sales from the international market. Worse, the lose of the 18 smallsats on this launch will certainly make future smallsat companies more reluctant to fly on a Russian rocket.

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Another Vostochny manager on trial for embezzlement

The Russians are prosecuting another manager at Vostochny for stealing more than $10 million.

[O]ut of 765 million rubles ($13 million) allocated under the contract with Federal State Unitary Enterprise Spetsstroytekhnologii, Tolstikov had only 100 million rubles ($1.7 million) left. The rest, according to him, he spent for construction trailers for workers.

It is amazing anything has been built at Vostochny. This case is in addition to the more than half dozen other embezzlement cases totaling almost $200 million, a very significant amount of money in Russia as well as a significant portion of the spaceport’s entire construction budget.

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Russia to launch twice from Vostochny this year

Russian Deputy Prime Minister announced today that Russia will launch satellites from its new spaceport in Vostochny twice in 2017, first on November 28 and second on December 22.

On July 3, Rogozin said Russia would conduct five launches from the Vostochny space center in 2018. On July 11, Russia’s Roscosmos State Space Corporation head Igor Komarov said the agency was determined to launch up to five carrier rockets for its foreign clients from Vostochny every year starting in 2019.

It appears that the Russian leadership decided to accelerate the launch schedule and move two of those 2018 launches to November and December, 2017. They must be feeling the competitive pressure coming from SpaceX, which has essentially stolen almost their entire share of the commercial launch market.

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Russia to spend $630 million to build Vostochny Angara launchpad

Despite years of construction and more than a billion dollars spent, Russia still needs to spend about $630 million more to build the Angara launchpad at its new Vostochny spaceport.

The specified sum does not include the development, manufacture and assembly of technological equipment at the launch compound, the materials say. According to the Roscosmos document, the construction completion and the commissioning of this infrastructure are scheduled for 2022.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov who visited the Vostochny spaceport in the Russian Far East in late May was informed that the construction of the launch pad for the Angara carrier rocket at this cosmodrome would cost 58 billion rubles ($968 million) and would be completed in 2023.

It appears that the Russia government is trying to reduce the overall cost and time needed to build this launchpad. I am willing to bet that this effort will fail, and the cost will raise and time to build will lengthen. And even if they meet these new targets, it is still going to take an awful lot of money and time to do it. Construction on Vostochny began in 2010. Angara’s construction began near the end of the 20th century. Overall, they are going to take decades to get this rocket off the ground. Meanwhile, SpaceX should have four launchpads in regular operation, all built for relatively little money in less than five years overall.

I don’t see anyway Russia is going to be able to compete in the global launch market, based on this information.

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Another Vostochny executive arrested for taking bribes

The Russian government has arrested another manager at Vostochny for demanding a 4 million ruble bribe from a contractor while simultaneously embezzling 10 million rubles from the project.

The arrests, of which this is one of about a half dozen, indicate both good and bad things. First, they indicate that the Russian government under Putin might actually be trying to rein in some of the corruption that permeates Russian business practices. Second, they indicate the amount of corruption that permeates Russian business practices.

What Putin is probably doing is attempting to control the bribe-taking and embezzling, not stop it. Too much of his bureaucracy and pseudo-private industry depends on this corruption to eliminate it entirely. Moreover, he doesn’t want to eliminate it because he himself benefits from it. He just simply doesn’t want it to get so out-of-hand that it prevents projects from getting completed, as it apparently almost did at Vostochny.

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Russia sets budget for Vostochny through 2019

The Russian government has now allocated a new budget for the next phase of construction at its new spaceport at Vostochny.

“The money has been allocated and specified by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for 2017-2019 within the limits of about 25-30 billion rubles annually, i.e. these funds are not as large as it seemed to us earlier,” the vice-premier said. “These funds have been set aside on the basis of the so-called ‘optimal scenario’ proposed by [State Space Agency] Roscosmos,” Rogozin said.

Essentially, they have lowered the budget and pushed back some of the more costly construction at Vostochny until after 2019. Even with these trims, they also note that the budget will still depend on how the Russian economy does in the coming years.

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New delays for Angara

Because of budget constraints Russia has been forced to delay by at least a year the construction of the launchpad facilities at Vostochny for their new Angara family of rockets.

Angara’s first test flights from Vostochny will now not happen before 2021. It seems to me that by the time they get this rocket off the ground it will already be obsolete.

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Russia’s troubled new spaceport

Link here. The article provides a nice summary of the many problems I have posted here on Behind the Black over the past three years, describing the corruption, cost overruns, and delays that have dominated the construction of Russia’s Vostochny spaceport.

I think this excerpt encapsulates the project’s basic problem:

Andrei Ionin of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, who helped draw up the original plans for Vostochny, said the idea was for the facility to boost the economy of the depressed Far East region. “It should have become an innovation cluster … with a smart city to attract bright young specialists,” Ionin said. Instead, the accompanying “innovation hub” was built near Moscow, and according to Oberg, only a skeleton crew is posted to Svobodny, the town that serves the spaceport.

“The original idea was botched,” Ionin said. He added that the project now has “no meaning” and is “like a fifth wheel in the Russian space program.”

The goal was not to improve efficiency or save costs, but to fulfill the idealistic hopes of a central planner whose plans were essentially very much divorced from reality. Meanwhile, the corruption that permeates all of Russian’s big industries honed in on this project as a great way to skim off a lot of cash for their personal bank accounts.

According to an expose by RBC published in July 2015, the original cost of the facility was supposed to be just $1.9 billion in today’s prices. Already, though, the cost of building the first of two launch pads has exceeded $2.4 billion, according data on dozens of state contracts compiled by RBC. Officials did not release an official budget for the spaceport before construction began in 2011.

Russian anti-graft activists allege that much of this overspend can be attributed to corruption. They say that, like many other Russian mega-projects, it has become a gravy train for well-connected embezzlers. “There are a lot of corruption violations,” said Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at the grassroots non-governmental organization the Anti-Corruption Fund. Sobol, who published an exposé on cost overruns at Vostochny last year, added: “The construction is overpriced by billions of rubles.”

Russian prosecutors say that least $165 million was embezzled during the construction process and several contractors have been charged. “I doubt the full extent [of the embezzlement] has been publicized,” said veteran American journalist and historian James Oberg, an expert on the Russian space program.

It will be especially revealing to compare Vostochny’s cost and development time with the spaceport that SpaceX is privately building in Texas. Which do you think will cost less and be fully operational first? I think I know.

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Manager resigns as investigation pinpoints issues during first Vostochny launch

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

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

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

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Problems with nanosat launched from Vostochny

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

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

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

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Why Russian aerospace will not compete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Russian court calls for arrest of Vostochny suspects

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

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

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First launch from Vostochny a success

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

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

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

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First Vostochny launch scrubbed at T-1.5

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

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

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

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

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Vostochny’s past and future

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

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Russia schedules first Vostochny launch

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

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

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Russia insures first Vostochny launch

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

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

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