Khrunichev’s Proton Woes Continue

Proton on launch pad (Credit: ILS)

Khrunichev’s Proton rocket, which has been grounded since an in-flight anomaly last June, continues to experience serious problems with quality control, Russian media reported last week.

An investigation into quality control issues in the Russian space industry has discovered that nearly every engine currently stockpiled for use in Proton rockets is defective, the RIA Novosti news agency reported March 30, citing Igor Arbuzov, head of state rocket engine manufacturer Energomash.

71 engines, mostly used to power the second and third stages of the Proton rocket, require complete overhauls to remove defects. Arbuzov did not specify what was wrong with the engines….

“Most of the work will be done in 2017, but we understand that some portion will inevitably slip into 2018,” Arbuzov said. “Our main goal is to avoid disrupting the government space program’s launch schedule, or the schedules of the Defense Ministry and commercial customers.”

In January, Russian officials said they were investigating quality control problems at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant where engines for the Proton and Soyuz boosters are manufactured. Specifically, they believed a less heat resistant metal had been used in second- and third-stage engines.

Officials ordered the recall of all second- and third-stage engines built for the Proton launch vehicles. Third-stage engines for the Soyuz-U and Soyuz-FG boosters were also replaced.

Russian media reported last week that Progress Space Rocket Center, which manufacturers Soyuz boosters, had received four tested third-stage engines from the Voronezh Mechanical Factory.

Last June, a Proton rocket suffered a second-stage anomaly while launching the Intelsat 31 communications satellite. The third stage compensated for the under performance of the second stage, delivering the spacecraft to its intended orbit.

In December, a Progress freighter bound for the International Space Station was lost after a Soyuz rocket malfunctioned.

Proton and Soyuz are the mainstays of the Russian booster fleet. Due to the on-going problems, Russia has only launched only twice during the first quarter of a year during which officials have promised to launch at least 30 times.

Last year, Russia conducted 18 successful launches in 19 attempts. It was the country’s lowest launch figure in years, leaving the nation in third place behind the United States and China.

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  • Merisea

    Kleptocracy vs technocracy. Money wins.

  • duheagle

    It seems the Russian space program will expire with both a whimper and an occasional bang.

  • James

    Meh, its more of a communism breed corruption and quality control issues like no ones business.

  • publiusr

    The communists during the 60’s had some pride at least. The old Chief Designers are spinning in their graves faster than their turbopumps.