Rogozin Bemoans Uncompetitive Russian Space Industry Amid Continued Anomalies

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has bluntly declared that the Russian space industry is uncompetitive with its American counterparts except in the crucial area of rocket engine development.

The harsh comments by Rogozin, who oversees the space and defense sectors, come amid continued quality control problems that affected two recent launches and a review of Roscosmos ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

Rogozin was unusually candid in his negative assessment of his nation’s space program.

“Our space industry has fallen behind the Americans ninefold. All of our ambitious projects require us to up productivity 150 percent – and even if we manage that, we will still never catch up with them,” Rogozin originally said to Interfax Friday.

“We will be following the news about NASA and [Elon] Musk and licking our lips while trying to explain ourselves why we don’t need what they are doing,” Rogozin said, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Rogozin took to Facebook later in the day to say that his quotes had been taken out of context.

In the field of space-rocket engine construction Russia are much more competitive than the US both in terms of quality and prices, he said.

Russian officials have long said the space industry is bloated and inefficient with poor quality control. The sectorhas suffered from a series of launch mishaps dating back to 2009.

To address these problems, officials have converted the Roscosmos space agency into a state-owned corporation under which the entire space industry is being consolidated. The model for this venture is Rosatom, a state-run company that oversees the nation’s nuclear industry.

Meanwhile, President Putin has ordered a “large-scale check” of Roscosmos because of launch failures and other problems that have occurred over the past two years. It’s unclear exactly what the review involves.

 Putin was angered last month by a one-day delay in the inaugural launch from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome. The Russian president had flown out personally to the remote spaceport in Russia’s Far East to witness the historic launch.
The flight of the Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket was scrubbed when an automated system detected a problem. The delay was caused by a defective cable in the rocket’s control system that was not manufactured to specifications.
Following the incident, the Director General of NPO Automatics, Leonid Shalimov, resigned from his post. Putin also reprimanded Rogozin and Igor Komarov, who is head of Roscosmos, over the delayed launch.
Meanwhile, Russia’s launch difficulties continued this week. On Sunday, the third stage of a Soyuz-2.1b booster carrying a Glonass-M navigation satellite shut down prematurely after launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

Sources told TASS that the Fregat upper stage fired longer than planned to get the spacecraft to its proper orbit. Glonass-M separated cleanly and is in good condition.

A state commission is probing the engine anomaly.

  • Vladislaw

    Wasn’t he the guy making the trampoline comments?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I wonder why, this deep into the Putin era, they air any dirty laundry. It’s not the Russian way, and for them to do this seems to me to be a political tool. But who’s left to practice politics against? I can only assume this is an attempt to gain more budget for the Russian space program at the expense of another dept of government. If so, it’s a little window into how politics in the Russian gov really works. And if so, it’s not too far from the workings of our own government.

  • Lee

    Russians uncompetitive? Surely you jest 😉

  • windbourne

    I was going to suggest that they go into making trampolines.

    If I were him, I would be nervous as well. Russia and Airbus have had the majority of commercial flights for the last 20 years because Boeing and l-mart insisted on massive short-term profits.
    Now, spacex is blowing that industry away.

  • P.K. Sink

    Ya gotta love Rogozin. He singlehandedly got the AF off of it’s collective butt, and got them passing around some serious money to some serious launch providers and engine builders.

  • Douglas Messier

    I think you’re right. Rogozin is the best friend commercial space has. Bombastic, high profile and savvy in the ways of social media, his constant threats and insults can only inspire us to greater heights. And the massive consolidation of the entire Russian space industry under Roscomos he has championed may well destroy whatever competitiveness the country has left. Their lead in launch vehicles and rocket engines is already eroded with SpaceX and Blue Origin.

  • savuporo

    The pronouncements about the death of Russian space industry are a bit premature, though. The consistently keep launching more rockets than anyone else, with China and US following neck to neck.
    They also have the most reliable launcher in their stable, plus an incredibly robust operational manned spacecraft.
    It’ll be a while before anyone can claim anything even close to the reliability record of Soyuz

  • Scott

    “It’ll be a while before anyone can claim anything even close to the reliability record of Soyuz”

    I hope the US launch industry doesn’t have the same reliability record as the R-7 derived family, despite the percentage successes it racked up some ~110 failures over it’s operational life. Since it’s maiden flight it has averaged just under 2 failures per year. The Soyuz is venerable, time honored vehicle and I have great respect for it but it’s reliability statistics are only due to the fact that is has flown a little under 2000 times. I would hope the US industry never suffers 2 failures a year.

    “They also have the most reliable launcher in their stable, plus an incredibly robust operational manned spacecraft.”

    And suffer from systemic quality control issues, corruption, and an inability to adapt to changes in their circumstances.
    Hence their continued use of 60’s and 70’s technology

    “The pronouncements about the death of Russian space industry are a bit premature, though.”

    Vultures love to imagine old animals dying, the Russians have been through tough and lean times before (90’s were particularly tough for them) they will bounce back from this. Plus the Russian gov’t is not going to allow the space industry to fail.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    I bet Rogozin wishes that Russia would have sold Musk a rocket flight back in 2002 instead of scorning him.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    If you look at Ed Kyle’s data, Chinese CZ-2D shows the same or better reliability than Soyuz. But keep living in a dream world.

  • windbourne

    No doubt Russia can in fact come back from this, but not if they are losing all of the commercial space and revenue.

    Within 2 more years, they will no longer be doing manned launches for the west.
    Likewise, if sanctions continue, it is hard to imagine that they will see loads more commercial launches. Without outside money, they will have have it much harder.

    And to top things off, it is near certain that Oil is going to go DOWN in price, not up that much more.

    If America will restart our nuke industry, but with advanced reactors, and will continuing AE, we can slowly replace not just coal, but nat gas power. At that point, we will probably allow exports to Europe, which will then allow America to export our oil and nat gas to Europe. That will drop EUs reliance on Russia, which will again, make things much harder for their space program.

    And they made a deal with China which at the time was pretty bad, but at this time, China is not liking it (they are paying something like 25% for oil/nat gas from Russia than from rest of the world; China will likely break their contract/treaty soon on this).

    Still Russia is looking at hard time and may soon be forced to decide if they want a space program, or to continue to keep troops in Ukraine and Syria.

  • The task ahead of Dmitry Rogozin and Igor Komarov is monumental. They have to consolidate the entire industry under the control of Roscosmos. That industry is operating at a fraction of capacity, maybe 30 or 40 percent. They need to close down facilities and lay off masses of workers. Probably tens of thousands of them. They need to make sure they don’t lose essential talent, facilities and capabilities. They also have to attract younger workers into an industry where salaries are low and you can get prosecuted if your mistake brings down a launch vehicle.

    Add in serious quality control problems that appear to persist no matter how much Rogozin bellows and threatens people. And the widespread graft and corruption that we saw at Vostochy which appears to exist throughout the country.

    On top of that, the fall of oil prices and Western sanctions resulted in a radically reduced 10-year space plan in which many projects were deferred for years. That limits their ability to pursue programs and to develop new technologies. It’s also not going to help at all with recruitment of younger workers.

    Then there’s the consolidation of the industry itself under Roscosmos, which might well remove any competitiveness that comes with having rival companies. The model is Rosatom, which has apparently worked fairly well in the nuclear industry, but space is different.

    So while Rogozin and Komarov are busy reorganizing and running programs beset by low budgets and corruption, U.S. companies will continue to leap ahead in the years to come. The American space sector is increasingly competitive and innovative. It’s backed by steady funding from NASA and Air Force, which have shown a willingness to invest in new technologies, take risks, and partner with the private sector.

  • Douglas Messier

    The task ahead of Dmitry Rogozin and Igor Komarov is monumental. They have to consolidate the entire industry under the control of Roscosmos. That industry is operating at a fraction of capacity, maybe 30 or 40 percent. They need to close down facilities and lay off masses of workers. Probably tens of thousands of them. They need to make sure they don’t lose essential talent, facilities and capabilities. They also have to attract younger workers into an industry where salaries are low and you can get prosecuted if your mistake brings down a launch vehicle.

    Add in serious quality control problems that appear to persist no matter how much Rogozin bellows and threatens people. And the widespread graft and corruption that we saw at Vostochy which appears to exist throughout the country.

    On top of that, the fall of oil prices and Western sanctions resulted in a radically reduced 10-year space plan in which many projects were deferred for years. That limits their ability to pursue programs and to develop new technologies. It’s also not going to help at all with recruitment of younger workers.

    Then there’s the consolidation of the industry itself under Roscosmos, which might well remove any competitiveness that comes with having rival companies. The model is Rosatom, which has apparently worked fairly well in the nuclear industry, but space is different.

    So while Rogozin and Komarov are busy reorganizing and running programs beset by low budgets and corruption, U.S. companies will continue to leap ahead in the years to come. The American space sector is increasingly competitive and innovative. It’s backed by steady funding from NASA and Air Force, which have shown a willingness to invest in new technologies, take risks, and partner with the private sector.

  • duheagle

    Russian autocrats are sometimes quite emotional people. I still remember when Nikita Khrushchev took off a shoe and hammered a podium with it. Rogozin seems to be one of those “short fuse” people. I’m thinking he simply let his mouth run away with him and committed a “Kinsleyan Gaffe” – i.e., inadvertently telling the truth.