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Sputtering Russian Space Program Fails To Step Into Shuttle Void

Last week's crash of Russian space supply ship Progress is the fourth Russian launch failure in nine months. With NASA’s Space Shuttle now decommissioned, there are concerns over whether Russia can be relied on to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

Article illustrative image Partner logo The Progress spacecraft that tumbled from the Soyuz U rocket

MOSCOW - The list of recent Russia space mission duds has grown troubling long.

Last week, the Soyuz U rocket, carrying the unmanned Progress cargo load to the International Space Station (ISS), launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazhakstan, and was expected to decouple nine minutes later. But after experiencing propulsion problems, the Progress ended up tumbling to earth in the Altai Republic, Siberia, after the third stage of its rocket carrier failed.

Last December, Russia was forced to crash three satellites into the Pacific Ocean worth a total of $140 million that were crucial to its GLONASS navigation system, a rival to the American-made GPS. That failed mission led to the reprimand of the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Anatoly Perminov, who promised to get the Glonass devices into orbit.  But soon after, he quit, and the orbit is still incomplete.

In February, there was a launch failure of the rocket carrying the earth-mapping satellite Geo IK-2. Due to booster rocket problems, it was put into the wrong orbit for three months before burning out in the upper reaches of the earth’s atmosphere.

After this $134 million failure, the deputy head of Roscosmos was reprimanded.

And early this month, a multi-million dollar communications satellite was placed outside its intended orbit, due to a motor failure, prompting Russia to ground its chief Proton-M rocket for commercial and military launches.

Too few rocket specialists

This all adds up to a half-billion dollars worth of errors for the Russian space programme this year alone. After the most recent mishap, Roscosmos has not yet said whether it would suspend a manned mission to the space station planned for September, but the Soyuz rocket is the only one that can carry people and supplies to the ISS. Progress had on board three tons of supplies, food and water, medical instruments and spare parts for the American segment of the station.

The American space shuttle completed its last flight, and NASA had struck a $750 million deal with the Russian space agency to supply the ISS using the Soyuz and the Progress. Roscosmos insists the ISS will not be affected as there are adequate supplies of food and water on the station for several months.

Although it has set up an investigation committee, it has long been known that the Russian space program needs substantial change. “The crisis in the department is not new, but after 15 years of stagnation, the agency got the money required to put together a decent space program,” says Igor Lisov, an expert from the industry magazine Space News. “You need to remember that we inherited a bad legacy. There are too few specialists. Now all hopes are pinned on the youth who despite it all, are coming into the department and getting ready to take over from the previous generation. But as long as they are paid peanuts, there is little hope for progress.”

Meanwhile industry expert Konstantin Kredenko said the problems stem from the faults left by the previous management. “All the failures are not with the space devices themselves, rather they are with the rocket and its components. This is not surprising. Those very rockets have not been changed for years."

And again, without the proper staff and training, not much can change. “(They) got rid of all our rocket specialists, but we are not looking for new ones. This is the problem with our system.”

Read the original article in Russian

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About this article source Website: http://www.kommersant.com/about.asp

Kommersant ("The Businessman") was founded in 1989 as the first business newspaper in the Russia. Originally a weekly, Kommersant is now a daily newspaper with strong political and business coverage. It has been owned since 2006 by Alisher Usmanov, the director of a subsidiary of Gazprom.

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