Perminov Out as Roscosmos Chief

Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov

In a stinging rebuke, Russia has announced that embattled Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov will step down after seven years at the helm of the Russian space agency. The announcement comes less than a week before Perminov is set to host the heads of 40 space agencies for the 50th anniversary celebration of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin and conduct high-level negotiations with NASA.

AFP reports that Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov announced the move while on a visit to Washington:

“Anatoly Nikolayevich Perminov is 65. According to Russian law, no state official can work once he is over this age,” Russian news agencies quoted Ivanov as saying on a visit to Washington.

“Whether it is April 15, April 20 or April 30, I don’t see any big difference,” said Ivanov, adding that in any eventuality NASA administrator Charles Bolden will have a counterpart to meet when he visits Russia next week.

Perminov will turn 66 on June 16. Even assuming that the age restriction is somehow immutable, announcing Perminov’s departure on the eve of the Gagarin celebrations seems to be an especially cruel swipe at a long-serving administrator. In fact, press reports indicate that recent mistakes, not age, are the primary cause of Perminov’s departure.

The nation’s leadership was furious when a Proton rocket failure sent three navigation satellites to the bottom of the Pacific in December. The navsats were designed to complete the 24-satellite GLONASS constellation, which is Russia’s answer to America’s GPS system. Completing the constellation was a very high-profile accomplishment that the nation’s leaders were set to trumpet. Instead, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ended up firing a deputy Roscosmos head and a vice president at Energia.

In February, Roscosmos came under withering criticism after another launch mishap stranded a military satellite in a useless orbit. Ivanov accused Roscosmos of making silly mistakes and falling behind on key projects. The space agency completed only six of the 11 spacecraft it had planned to build in 2010, Ivanov said.

The most recent problem was a six-day delay in the launching of a Soyuz crew vehicle named “Gagarin” to the International Space Station. Although such a delay would not have raised any eyebrows in the United States, it was apparently the last straw for Russia’s leaders who found their travel plans disrupted.

In a note published on the Roscosmos website, Perminov said:

Question about my future the service mission should be decided by the government in accordance with established procedures.

With regard to the preparation and conduct of commemorative events on the 50th anniversary of space flight of Yuri Gagarin, they are all prepared and will be held in our country in full and on terms established by the Organizing Committee plan to celebrate this anniversary date.

About 40 foreign heads of space agencies and departments have confirmed their agreement. A number of activities scheduled for April 12, will be held with the direct supervision of the President of the Russian Federation.

Our meeting with the head of NASA’s Charles Bolden is planned jointly with the U.S. space agency in the framework of Russian-American Presidential Commission regarding issues of cooperation in space sphere. Its agenda is consistent, and we plan to hold this meeting on April 15

The change in leadership comes at a critical time for Russia’s space agency. Not only is Roscosmos increasing its launch rate substantially, it is beginning construction on a new spaceport in the Far East while also developing new launch vehicles and human spacecraft. Roscosmos is set to take over sole responsibility for launching crews to the International Space Station after the American space shuttle retires later this year.