French, Russians to Collaborate on Reusable Rockets

RIA Novosti has a report on yet another Russian rocket development program:

Russia and France will pool their efforts to build cutting-edge reusable space rockets, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Friday.

“Russian and French engineers are already working in this direction under Project Ural,” Putin told a news conference after a meeting of the Russian-French cooperation commission….

The 15-year Ural program to build advanced reusable carrier rockets was adopted in 2005….

The project is still at the conceptual stage as the type of rocket engine – hydrogen, kerosene or methane fueled – has yet to be determined.


Roscosmos to Restructure Khrunichev, Replace Management

The reorganization of the Russian space industry continued on Friday as Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin announced plans to create of a new rocket building holding organization and to replace the management of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.

Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin announced the plan in remarks before the State Duma, according to Interfax. The report doesn’t say why the move is being made, but it appears to be an attempt by the Russian space agency to tighten control over the industry.


Roscosmos Cancels Rus-M Rocket in Favor of Upgraded Soyuz

Roscosmos has canceled its planned Rus-M rocket and will launch its new six-person Soyuz replacement spacecraft on an upgraded Soyuz-2 rocket instead, according to space agency officials.

“We have come to the conclusion that we do not need a new rocket, we can continue using those we already have,” Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin told Russian media.

The two-stage rocket was designed to replace the venerable Soyuz booster. Built by Energia, Rus-M was schedule to begin test flights from the new Vostochny spaceport in the Far East beginning around 2015. Human missions would have followed three years later.


Russia’s Solution to Roscosmos Problem: Militarize It?

As engineers continue their investigation of the Soyuz launch failure (a malfunctioning gas generator is to blame) and rejigger their launch schedule, a far more important question is being debated: what to do about the suddenly bumbling Russian space agency, Roscosmos.

One possible answer emerged this week: re-militarize it.

The Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said on Wednesday it is considering returning the federal space program to the framework of the state defense order to ensure steady financing and reduce the number of accidents with space launches.


Russian Inquiry Board Clears Proton and Breeze-M for Flights

Roscosmos has cleared the Proton-M rocket and the Breeze-M upper stage for flight after an inquiry found that the recent loss of a communications satellite was caused by a programming error in the third stage’s guidance system.

“Following analysis of information, the commission has concluded that over formation of the mission profile for the Briz-M upper stage, the time interval of sub turning of the gyro-stabilised platform was cut unreasonably. This caused the incorrect orientation of the upper stage and, consequently, failed to bring the satellite to the designed orbit,” Roscosmos said in a press release.

The failure stranded the Express-AM4 satellite in a useless orbit. Controllers have been unable to contact the satellite, which was designed for digital television broadcasts.  Russia has suffered four launch failures in less than nine months.

“The rest of the booster worked without any problems,” Roscosmos said. “The result of the commission lifted the ban on the preparation of ‘Proton-M’ with RB ‘Breeze-M’ and prepare the necessary recommendations to be implemented before the next launches.”

NASA: ISS Might Need to Be Temporarily Abandoned in November

Russia has until late November to determine a fix for the problem that caused a Soyuz rocket and Progress freighter to crash last week or the crew will have to temporarily abandon the International Space Station, a NASA official has told Spaceflight Now. The problem, ironically, involves not station operations but rather harsh winter weather at the Soyuz landing site in Kazakhstan.


Cool Pics: Russians Show Next-Generation Human Spacecraft to Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin inside of a full-size mockup of Russia's six-passenger "Rus" spacecraft. (Credit: RSC Energia)

MOSCOW  — August 19, 2011 (Energia PR) — In Zhukovsky, Moscow region, the 10th International Aerospace Show (MAKS-2011), which was held on August 16 through 21, has completed its work.

The Corporation’s stand, which was a part of the joint exhibit of the Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos), was a continuous focus of attention for a great number of visitors, among whom there were specialists from aviation and space companies of Russia and other countries, scientists, representatives of business circles, university students and teachers, veterans of the industry, journalists, aerospace aficionados.


Russian Space Engineers Paid Less Than Cell Phone Sellers

Soyuz rocket

AFP takes a look at the problems with the Russian space industry, which has lost four rockets and six spacecraft in under 9 months. It’s not a pretty picture:

  • The previous leadership of Russia’s space agency Roskosmos “paid little attention to the production and operation of spacecraft,” concurred Konstantin Kredenko, the editor of the specialised Vestnik Glonass magazine.
  • “The series of accidents with Russian satellites is not by chance. It is a crisis in the sector. This is an alarm call. It shows that monitoring has failed. Before, they would not have let through a defect at the checking stage.” — Igor Lisov, an expert at the Novosti Kosmonavtiki journal
  • Experts blamed the changing priorities of post-Soviet society, with once privileged scientists in the space sector now earning miserable salaries.
  • “This will go on as long as people considers that an engineer in the space sector can earn half as much as someone who sells cell phones in a kiosk,” Lisov said. “This is a matter of priorities and the values of society. When consumerism becomes the top priority, this leads to a crisis.

Uh-oh. The International Space Station program is now largely dependent on a space program that has been in long-term decay for 20 years and has deep structural problems that can’t be fixed any time soon.


Congress needs to fund commercial crew properly. And the Russians may need to pull back on some of their more ambitious projects (new rockets and spaceport) to rebuilding its human infrastructure.


Russia Successfully Tests Upper Stage for Soyuz, Angara

Test of Russian RD-0124 engine. Credit: Roscosmos

Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin was in Voronezh over the weekend where he witnessed the test of an upper stage engine destined to fly aboard Soyuz and Angara rockets.

On Saturday, Popovkin visited the Khimavtomatiki Design Bureau and Voronezh Mechanical Plant, where engineers successfully fired the RD-0124 engine on a test stand. The kerosene/LOX engine is slated to fly aboard a Soyuz 2-1b rocket carrying a GLONASS-K spacecraft at the end of this year. It also will be used on Soyuz-ST-B that will begin flying from Kourou this fall.

A modified version of the engine will be used on the new Angara rocket being developed by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre. That rocket is scheduled to make its first test flights in 2013.

According to a Roscosmos report, Popovkin said that the Voronezh KBKhA will have many engine orders by 2020 for both civilian and military launches.

Interview: Roscosmos Boss Speaks on Space Tourism, Priorities and Agency Restructuring

Roscosmos has posted the transcript of an interview that Vladimir Popovkin gave to the Russian newspaper Kommersant. The space agency chief touches on a wide range of issues, including space tourism, the budget, the restructuring of Roscosmos and the Russian space industry, and the future of the Angara rocket.

The highlights, translated from Russian:

Space Tourism

  • Popovkin views human spaceflight as worthwhile if it produced practical results. “If a person just wants to go to orbit, I believe this is an inefficient activity.”
  • On increasing annual Soyuz production to five spacecraft in order to fly space tourists: “Space tourism must be carried out on extra money. If the corporation Energia or any other corporation, or tourists themselves, will be able to find them [extra funds] and build a ship, then such tourism has the right to exist. Space tourism at the expense of the budget – it’s not space tourism…..This idea will be developed…We [Roscosmos] are for space tourism, but first create a business plan, and we will help take out loans. But there is no reflection of the state program of this issue should not be.”


ISS Partners Discuss How to Use Station as Technology Test Bed

International Space Station

NASA PR — WASHINGTON — The Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) for the International Space Station partner agencies met Tuesday, July 26, to discuss how to use the space station as a test bed for technologies that will enable missions beyond low Earth orbit.

The board will begin identifying several specific technology collaboration initiatives based on possible future missions suggested by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group. These technology developments and demonstrations on the station could support voyages to an asteroid or Mars or the development of lunar habitats.


Yuri Gagarin Statue Unveiled in London

Credit: UKSA

Roscosmos PR — Roscosmos delegation has taken part in the opening ceremony which honors the first spaceman – Yuri Gagarin – in London.

The figure placed just off The Mall features the cosmonaut in his flight suit and standing on a globe. The statue is a gift from Roscosmos to the British Council, the organization that represents the UK culturally abroad.

The monument is a copy of one sited in the town of Lubertsy, just outside Moscow, where Gagarin trained as a foundry worker in his mid-teens.


Will Russian Space Plans be Derailed By the Olympics?

Over at Technology Review, Anatoly Zak reports that Russia’s ambitious plan to replace the Soyuz rocket and spacecraft later this decade could be derailed by funding issues:

While the official schedule calls for the first launch of the brand-new Rus-M rocket from the yet-to-be built Vostochny Cosmodrome in 2015, and the first manned mission from this site in 2018, many industry experts consider this timeline wildly unrealistic. In a run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, the country may have to choose between multibillion-dollar investments in Sochi Olympic facilities or in the new space center. These experts believe that the current Russian strategy could push back the birth date of the Soyuz replacement by years, if not a decade. Critics point to the ongoing development of the Angara family of rockets, which was initiated at the beginning of the 1990s and has perpetually remained several years away from its maiden mission.