The Vostochny Follies: Another Year, Another Hunger Strike

As Russia unveiled a fancy new 2,000 ruble banknotes featuring the Vostochny Cosmodrome this week, some of the construction workers at the spaceport were dealing with all-too-familiar problem: not getting any banknotes at all.

Construction workers at Russia’s Far East spaceport are staging a hunger strike for the third year in a row demanding salaries that they haven’t received in six months….
(more…)

As Russian Space Industry Tumbles, the Kremlin Steps In — Again

The Progress 65 spacecraft is pictured at its launch pad Nov. 29 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Last year was not a particularly good one for the Russian space program.

The country fell behind China and the United States in launches. Its 19 attempts were the lowest in years. The Proton rocket flew only three times before being ground for more than half a year due to a launch anomaly. In December, a Soyuz malfunction sent a Progress cargo ship crashing back into Earth’s atmosphere — the latest in a long string of failures going back to 2009.

(more…)

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.
(more…)

Russians Say N(ot)yet to Reusable Rockets

Roscosmos_logoIt looks as if Roscosmos will not be following Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos down the road of reusable rockets. Instead, the newly privatized company will spend the next decade developing a new medium-lift launch vehicle that will serve as the foundation of a super-heavy booster.

That’s the word on the latest draft of Russia’s incredibly shrinking space budget. With its revenues battered by low oil prices, the government has cut back planned spending for 2016-2025 from 2 trillion rubles ($24.4 billion) to 1.4 trillion rubles ($17.1 billion). The government might allocate an additional 115 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) after 2021, TASS reports.

(more…)

Putin Demands Massive Government Space Agency Stay Competitive

Vladimir Putin inspects construction at Vostochny. (Credit:  Presidential Press and Information Office)
Vladimir Putin inspects construction at Vostochny. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that his nation’s bloated space sector remain competitive with the West as the entire industry is consolidated under the control of the government-owned Roscosmos space agency.

“Special attention needs to be directed in the course of [new space] programs at strengthening our positions in the spheres of manned spaceflight and in orbiting cargo, primarily in commercial launches,” Putin said at a meeting of space industry officials in Sochi on Thursday.
(more…)

First Launch from Vostochny Delayed Until Spring

Soyuz launch complex at Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Soyuz launch complex at Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Vladimir for Life Putin visited Russia’s delay- and scandal-plagued  Vostochny spaceport on Wednesday and officially threw in the towel on the effort to launch a rocket from the Far East cosmodrome by the end of the year.

“We do not need any drumbeating reports, we need high-quality results,” Putin said. “So let us agree: you finish the work related to water supply and wastewater disposal. It is necessary to prepare spaceships for launches. And be ready to carry out the first launches in 2016, somewhere in the spring.”

“If you do that before Cosmonautics Day, that will be fine,” the president added.

The project, designed to lessen Russian dependence on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, has been troubled by lengthy delays and embezzlement scandals. Workers have complained about not being paid for months while executives from some companies have been arrested for alleged graft.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin ha threatened to tear the heads off anyone delaying the program. No reports yet on whether he has carried out any of these threats.

Putin Approves Roscosmos Reorganization as Officials Eye Export Sales to China

Roscosmos_logoRussian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law to consolidate the nation’s space industry under the control of a revamped Roscosmos as officials eye export sales to China as a way to offset budget cuts in the nation’s space program.

The law will combine the United Rocket and Space Corporation with Roscosmos, which will become a state corporation. The new company will be led by former auto industry executive Igor Komarov.

(more…)

Roscosmos Wants to Speed Up Transition From Proton to Angara

FAILI! A Proton takes a nose dive at Baikonur. (Credit: Tsenki TV)
FAILI! A Proton takes a nose dive at Baikonur. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

The head of the Russian space agency, Igor Komarov, wants to speed up the replacement of the trouble-plagued Proton launch vehicle with new Angara rockets, TASS reports.

‘It is necessary to expedite the transition of launches from Protons to the Angara rocket,” he said at a meeting held by Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin in the Siberian city of Omsk.

Vice-Premier Rogozin said last week Russia should switch to digital designing in the space rocket industry, gradually giving up Proton boosters and opting for other models, like the Angara rocket.

“Generally, our conclusion is also related to the need to switch exclusively to digital designing and modelling of this sort of situations and, of course, it is necessary to expedite the transition to modern carrier rockets like the Angara, gradually giving up the Protons,” Rogozin said.

(more…)

Russian Audit Committee Finds Mind Boggling Financial Violations at Roscosmos

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

More bad news for Russia’s struggling space program:

Russia’s Audit Chamber has discovered $1.8 billion of financial violations in the Roscosmos space agency. According to Chamber head Tatyana Golikova, this included accounting violations, misuse of budget funds and inefficient spending on construction.

“At first I didn’t believe the inspectors,” Golikova said, Interfax reported.

The Audit Chamber has observed a sharp rise in violations at Roscosmos since last year, she said. “It was an absolute surprise for me. I conducted a budget inspection last year, and now in 2014, the number of violations has grown sharply.”

Earlier, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin blamed corruption in the space industry for the recent high accident rate of Russian spacecraft. Speaking in the State Duma on Tuesday, he said Roscosmos’ partner, the state company producing Proton rockets, is facing eight criminal cases.

One of the projects apparently seething with violations is the new Vostochny (Eastern) Cosmodrome. According to Golikova, its construction saw an overspending of about 13 billion rubles ($260 million). She says this resulted from overpricing and use of fraud schemes. The numbers are being looked into by the Russian Investigative Committee.

(more…)

Putin, Skolkovo and the Fate of Russia’s Space Program

putin_vostochny3
I recent found a couple of interesting analytical pieces about the state of Russia’s struggling high tech sector and space program. Together, they paint a rather dismal picture of the prospects that Russia will be able to revive its once-proud space effort and break free of its economic reliance upon oil, gas, minerals and heavy metals.

In “The Short Life and Speedy Death of Russia’s Silicon Valley,” James Appell looks at the declining fortunes of Skolkovo, the Russian government’s $4 billion incubator outside Moscow that was designed to be the nation’s answer to America’s famous tech center. Then-President Dmitry Medvedev launched the ambitious effort in 2009 after visiting California as a way to diversify the Russian economy.

(more…)

Russia Roundup: Vostochny, Consolidation & Lunar Base

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

As another Russian space mission went haywire this week, there was plenty of other news about that nation’s struggle space program. Here’s a summary of major news from the past week.

VOSTOCHNY

  • Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that 58 million rubles (about $1 million) in back wages owed to Vostochny workers will be paid by April 30. Unhappy workers have gone on hunger strikes and appealed to President Vladimir Putin with a message written on the roofs of their dorms.

INDUSTRY CONSOLIDATION

  • Efforts to consolidate the Russian space industry under Roscomos continued. Putin submitted a draft law to the State Duma that would establish a space corporation on the basis of Roscosmos and the United Rocket and Space Corporation.

LONG RANGE PLANS

  • In a meeting with Chinese officials, Rogozin proposed that the two countries work together on a permanently crewed base on the moon. Russian is aiming to establish a lunar facility around 2030.

Vostochny Project Becoming Increasingly Farcical

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Russia’s multi-billion dollar Vostochny spaceport project has now gone from absurd to farcical.

On the heels of a hunger strike by unpaid workers comes word of another group of more than 500 people who say they haven’t been paid for four months.

The workers have sent a personal appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In very large letters. On the roofs of their workers barracks.

No, I’m not kidding. This comes directly from the you can’t make s— like this up file. Click the link and take a look at the photos.

I think they sent the appeal to the right place. Putin presides over a mafia state where theft and corruption runs rampant. He and his cronies have greatly benefited from it. But, when he actually needs to get something done, his ambitions are hamstrung by the very system he has put into place.

This latest embarrassment will undoubtedly be followed by more firings of those responsible by Putin’s military industrial complex czar, Dmitry Rogozin, who has direct control over the Vostochny project. The question is whether or not Rogozin should be fired for presiding over this sorry mess.

Vostochny Workers Go on Hunger Strike Over Back Wages

Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)
Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)

Pity the poor workers at Vostochny.

They’re out there in the Russian Far East, in the middle of nowhere, trying to construct a massive new spaceport and an entire city to support it. There’s not enough people to do the work, the winter weather is horrible, and their employers have allegedly embezzled money while falling months behind on wage payments.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin has decreed the first launch will take place from the new spaceport in December no matter. Deputy Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin — a great admirer of Josef Stalin — monitors the work via webcam in between regular visits. He recently threatened the rip the heads off anyone who steals funds or slows the project down.

Pressure? Oh, no pressure. What makes you say that?

(more…)

Rogozin Fires Another Vostochny Construction Head

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was back at the Vostochny spaceport last week to see how well his latest motivational tactic was working. Apparently, not very well.

A week and a half prior to his latest inspection tour, Rogozin had promised to rip the heads off anybody who was slowing down work on the cosmodrome. President Vladimir Putin had decreed the new spaceport will be ready for its first launch in December.

That approach apparently didn’t have the desired effect. During his visit last Tuesday, Rogozin fired Dmitry Savin, head of the main contractor, Dalspetsstroi. He reportedly left with his head intact and will continue to work for Dalspetsstroi.

This was the second firing of a Dalspetsstroi head in less than six months. Savin’s predecessor, Yury Khrizman, was arrested last October for allegedly embezzling 1.8 billion rubles ($30 million).

Lucky Russian Students Spend Winter in Balmy Vostochny

Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)
Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)

RussianSpaceWeb.com says 200 lucky students had a chance to spend their winter break in Russia’s frigid Far East, where they are taking a course in Screwed Up Construction Projects 101.

In an unusual step, the Russian government organized 200-strong “winter student brigade” to provide low-skilled labor in Vostochny beginning on February 1, even though normally such groups would only be available during summer. Official press releases did not elaborate whether members of the brigade would have to skip a semester. As many as 1,200 students were promised in Vostochny during the summer of 2015, Roskosmos said.

(more…)