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.

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Russia Severing Ties With Ukraine on Dnepr, Zenit Launch Programs

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)
Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

Roscosmos officials made announcements this week that they would be suspending a joint program with Ukraine to launch Dnepr rockets and were no longer interested in buying Ukrainian Zenit boosters, deepening problems for that embattled nation’s space program and its struggling Yuzhmash factory.

Dneprs are converted SS-18 ballistic missiles that are converted into satellite launchers by Ukraine’s Yuzhmash launch vehicle manufacturer. The boosters are launched by the Moscow-based Moscow-based Kosmotras International Space Company, which is Russian-Ukrainian joint venture.

Russian media report three Dnepr launches scheduled this year will be carried out. However, The Moscow Times reports the future of the venture remains cloudy. It is possible the program will end, or Russia will convert the missiles to satellite launchers without Ukrainian participation.

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Is Russian Space Industry Consolidation Creating a Black Hole?

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

A couple of stories in The Moscow Times provide some insight into the re-nationalization of Russia’s space industry.  One story claims the changes will create a giant black hole that will suck in billions of rubles while producing little of value. The other spotlights the firing of a prominent space analyst who dared oppose the changes.

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Rogozin Looks to Put Vostochny Back on Schedule as Russia Mulls BRICS Space Station

Russia’s Josef Stalin-worshiping Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin paid another one of his periodic visits to Vostochny this week, where he did not like what he found.

“My view after the examination of cosmodrome facilities and talks with representatives of Roscosmos and Spetsstroi (state construction company) is the following: the state of affairs at ‘minimum launch’ facilities leaves much to be desired. The builders for the present are behind the schedule,” Rogozin told a meeting of the commission for control over the country’s most important construction site.

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Roscosmos Merged With United Rocket & Space Corporation

Dmitry Medvedev meets with Igor Komarov. (Credit: Government of Russian Federation)
Dmitry Medvedev meets with Igor Komarov. (Credit: Government of Russian Federation)

The  Russian space agency Roscosmos is being merged with the United Rocket and Space Corporation, the government-owned company that is consolidating all of the nation’s space assets under its control. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin Tweeted:

The Government expects Roscosmos to put forward a draft law on creating a state corporation in the coming days http://t.co/U0RHdqg6Yg Putin supported Medvedev’s proposal to create a state corporation on the basis of Roscosmos and United Rocket and Space Corporation

He is, of course, referring to President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The Russian government has Tweeted a picture of Medvedev meeting with URSC Director General Igor Komarov, who is apparently now the head of Roscosmos. That means Oleg Ostapenko is out as Roscosmos chief.

The appears appears to be modeled on the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation, which consolidated Russia’s nuclear industry. It’s an interesting move given that the United States and Europe are looking to the private sector to be innovative and carry more of the burden in space.

Year in Review: Launch Industry Disrupted in 2014

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SpaceX Founder Elon Musk has long talked about disrupting the launch industry with low prices and technological innovations. In 2014, the impacts of those efforts were felt far and wide as competitors responded to the threat the California company posed to their livelihoods.

ULA Pivots. With SpaceX reeling off one successful launch after another, ULA pivoted on several fronts. One was to announce efforts to significantly reduce costs on its highly reliable but pricey Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. But, even that proved to be insufficient as SpaceX threatened ULA on several fronts.

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Will Sea Launch End Up in Brazil?

sea_launch_zenitRussia’s efforts to find a new home for its failure-prone Sea Launch company has taken officials to rising South American power — and charter BRICS member — Brazil.

That’s the word from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin anyway.

“A quite remarkable dialogue at the level of experts is currently in progress; possibly, the idea may take shape within the BRICS group, or in our bilateral relations with Brazil, of carrying out such joint launches and furnishing assistance to Brazil in developing its space industry and making its own spacecraft,” he said, adding that Brazil already had its own space site close to the ocean that would fit in well with such tasks.
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Putin Takes Direct Control of Russian Military Industrial Complex

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 Leader-for-Life Vladimir Putin has tightened his already tight control over Russia’s military industrial complex, taking personal control of the commission responsible for carrying 0ut Russia’s defense orders and demoting Dmitry “Trampoline Rocket” Rogozin in the process.

The Moscow Times reports that Putin warned of burgeoning security threats facing Russia as he took personal control of the Military-Industrial Commission. Under Rogozin, the commission has been unable to break a cycle of “widespread corruption, inefficiency and incompetence” that have made it difficult for contractors to deliver as promised.

“I hope the commission’s new status [under the presidential administration] and its broad powers will allow it to better coordinate the interaction between the Defense Ministry and other departments and enterprises of the military-industrial complex,” Putin said Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the commission’s previous chief, has been dumped down to the position of deputy following the reshuffle.

The new arrangement “will increase the efficiency of state policy in the military-industrial sphere and the … security of the country,” Putin said during a meeting of the commission, according to a transcript on the Kremlin’s website.

Rogozin’s role had been to oversee the defense and space sectors. Despite his demotion, he will continue to have a major role in the space industry, which is being consolidated under a single government-run corporation. Last week, Putin gave him the responsibility for overseeing the completion of the new Vostochny spaceport, which had been managed by Roscosmos.

Putin’s move was made amid a major effort to modernize Russia’s military forces and capabilities. Russia also wants to reduce its dependence on foreign suppliers at a time when it’s facing sanctions over its annexation of Crimea and hostile actions in eastern Ukraine.

Report: Russia Won’t Meet 2018 Launch Date From Vostochny

OKA-T spacecraft (Credit: RSC Energia)
OKA-T spacecraft (Credit: RSC Energia)

A Russian plan to launch cosmonauts into orbit from the new Vostochny spaceport in 2018 appears to have been abandoned, but officials have come up with a way to sort of meet that deadline.

‘RussianSpaceWeb.com reports the current plan is to launch a human-tended microgravity laboratory called Oka-T into space in 2018. The free-flying laboratory will conduct material sciences experiments and would be periodically serviced by cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station.

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Putin Visits Vostochny, Tells Officials to Hurry Up

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 for Life Vladimir Putin paid a visit to the new Vostochny spaceport on Tuesday, telling officials there to get back on schedule, hire more workers and stay within budget.

“I would like to stress that at this point construction work at the launch pad and technical support facilities is lagging behind 30 to 55 days,” Putin said. He called for paying “due attention to that.”

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Russians Excelling at Killing Creatures in Space Lately

Foton M4 capsule after landing. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Foton M4 capsule after landing. (Credit: Roscosmos)

It can’t be easy being either a gecko or a deputy prime minister in Russia these days.

If you’re a gecko, the chances are that some idiot scientist is going to stick you in a capsule and launch you into space with a bunch of other geckos. They will stick a camera in there and film you having space sex.

If that’s not humiliating enough, the chances of you coming back alive from such a trip is roughly 50-50 because the engineering geniuses who designed the spacecraft don’t seem to know what the hell they’re doing.

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Rogozin Celebrates Return of Dead Space Geckos

From the files of the Spoke Too Soon Department, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin celebrated the return of the Foton M4 capsule before waiting to find out whether its star passengers, five space geckos, were still alive.

Why exactly is this guy in charge of the Russian space industry?

Embattled RSC Energia President Lopota Suspended from Post

Energia_logoEmbattled RSC Energia President Vitaly Lopota, who is the subject of a criminal investigation for alleged abuse of office, was suspended from his post on Friday by the company’s board of directors, ending a seven-year reign over the space company.

The move appears to be part of an effort by Russia’s government to obtain majority control over Energia, of which it owns a 38-percent share. The directors elected Igor Komarov as its new chairman of the board. Komarov is chief of the Russian United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC), the government-owned company tasked with consolidating Russia’s sprawling space sector.

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Maiden Angara Launch Postponed Indefinitely

Angara-1.2 launch vehicle on pad at Plesetsk. (Credit: Khrunichev)
Angara-1.2 launch vehicle on pad at Plesetsk. (Credit: Khrunichev)

It looks like it will be week before the Russians can try to launch their Angara 1.2 rocket again after a last-minute scrub on Friday:

A defect in the drainage valve of the liquid oxygen tank detected during pre-launch tests led to cancellation of the first test launch of the light-class Angara carrier rocket 19 seconds prior to the engine refueling, experts told Interfax-AVN after probing an emergency during Angara’s launch on Monday.

“One needs to understand what Angara means. It is new engines, a new control system. In other words, trials are needed in order to fine-tune everything. There is no room for any frenzy. We should not take any risks. It has taken us quite long to build this rocket. It will certainly fly into space, but more tests should be conducted first. Its launch has been cancelled because a malfunction was detected. The malfunction was assessed by its own system,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters in Uglegorsk on Tuesday….

Rogozin said that he doesn’t know when the next launch will take place. “I think it will take us weeks to return the Angara launch vehicle to its launch pad,” he said, Interfax reports.

The Angara is a modular family of launch vehicles designed to replace a number of existing rockets. It has been under development fror nearly 20 years.