UAE Narrows Astronaut Candidates to 9

The Soyuz MS-07 rocket is launched with Expedition 54 Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Scott Tingle of NASA, and flight engineer Norishige Kanai of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Shkaplerov, Tingle, and Kanai will spend the next five months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The game of musical chairs for four slots in the United Arab Emirates astronaut program continues at the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).

Out of 18 candidates, nine passed the one-to-one interviews in the MBRSC and are scheduled to undergo an intensive assessment in Russia by experts from Roscosmos.

Once the assessment is completed, the UAE will be choose the first Emirati astronaut corps out of four Emirati astronauts. The tests will be conducted by experts from Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, and will include intensive medical and physical tests to ensure that candidates are ready for special space-related training.

The center has book a ride to the International Space Station for its first astronaut aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for 2019.

Russian Launch Failures Aren’t a Bug, They’re a Feature

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Edior

Over the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of Russia’s annual launch failures. For reasons I can’t quite recall, the table I’ve used only went back to 2009.

Recently, I saw a graphic on a Russian website about launch failures, and I realized I hadn’t gone back far enough. So, I dug into the records of the last 30 years from 1988 through 2017, which covers Russia and the last four years of the Soviet Union.

And holy crap! There were a helluva lot of them. Launch failures are not a bug in the system, they’re a feature.

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Russia Looks to Cut Back on Funding for Baikonur

Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)
Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)

Russian funding for the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is likely to be cut significantly in the years ahead as Roscosmos shifts its focus toward the new Vostochny spaceport in the Russian Far East:

“In the earlier versions of the Draft Budget 2016, subsidies for Baikonur maintenance were at around $70.4 million,” CEO of the Center for Operation of Space Ground-Based Infrastructure Sergey Lazarev said, “These funds were supposed to be spent on salaries and maintenance of the cosmodrome’s facilities. We asked for more. But when our representative in the Ministry of Finance was shown the final draft, the subsidies made zero. In fact, this could mean that Baikonur will be left without any funding whatsoever.”

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Kazakhstan Limits Russian Rocket Launches from Baikonur

Proton rocket
Proton rocket

Russian officials are not pleased that Kazakhstan has approved the launch of 12 Proton rockets from Baikonur in 2013 instead of the requested 17. Kazakhstan has cited environmental reasons for the restriction, saying that Proton uses a toxic fuel.

Moscow may demand to review the cosmodrome lease agreement conditions, Iterfax-Kazakhstan reports, citing Interfax Division for Military News as quoting a source in the Russia’s space industry.

“A possible scenario is to initiate talks to have the rent payments tied to the extent to which the Baikonur satisfies Russia’s needs”, the source said.

“Russia is meeting Kazakhstan’s requirements to stagedly decrease harmful emissions of the carrier rockets”, the source said, reminding that Kazakhstan cited environment concerns when restricting the number of launches.

“In particular, Russia has implemented a costly program to modernize Proton carrier rockets to Proton-M. Heptyl-run Cyclon-2 and RS-20 are no longer used”, the source said, adding that “hardly will the sides come to terms within a short time”.

A total of 30 launches are planned from Baikonur this year.

This is the latest dispute over the Kazakh spaceport, which Russia leases at a cost of $115 million per year. Kazakhstan has said it wants to renegotiate the lease and assume greater control over the Soviet-era facility.

Russia will be moving many — but not all — of the launch operations currently performed at Baikonur to a new launch complex at Vostochny in the Russian Far East beginning in 2015.

Read the full story.

Energia Completes Design of Soyuz Replacement, Eyes 2017 Test Flight

PPTS-01RSC Energia announced that it has completed the design of Russia’s next-generation human spacecraft, which is intended to debut the same year that the Soyuz will reach its 50th anniversary:

The proposed spacecraft is commonly known as PPTS (or Prospective Piloted Transport System) and RSC Energia won the tender to build it in 2009. Initially, 2015 was named as the date of the first test flight, but that was then shifted to 2018. Now, [Energia Chief Vitaly] Lopota has brought the test date forward again.

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Russian Officials Not Keen on Turning Over Baikonur to Kazakhstan

It looks as if Kazakhstan could have a very long wait before it can take control of the Baikonur Cosmodrome and its adjoining city. A Kazakh proposal to gradually end the long-term lease that Russia holds on Baikonur is getting a chilly reception in Moscow.

“It will cause many issues, including social ones,” forecasts deputy head of the Russian State Duma’s commission on the CIS and compatriots Tatyana Moskalkova. She said that economic integration could assist in solving the problem. “If the EurAsian Economic Union were in place, those issues would not be that vital,” she explained.

Head of the State Duma’s commission Leonid Slutsky says the status question may be under discussion to the very end of the rent term between Russia and Kazakhstan, which is to 2050. “The format of the future joint exploitation is not in place, the terms are not clear,” he said. “Clearly, it (revision of the status)  is most likely to happen after expiration of the agreement, which is after 2050,” he said.

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Malfunctioning Russian Upper Stage Explodes, Spreads Orbital Debris

Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.

The decaying Russian space program continues to cause serious problems for the world:

A Russian Breeze M rocket stage, left with loaded fuel tanks after an August launch failure, exploded in orbit Oct. 16, raising concerns of the U.S. military, NASA and global satellite operators on the lookout for collision threats from hundreds of new space debris fragments.

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Russia: Rogozin Calls for Hypersonic Bomber by 2020

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

In a move that has puzzled military observers, Russia’s defense czar has called for his nation to produce a hypersonic bomber within eight years:

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin repeated his appeal on Monday for Russia to develop a hypersonic aircraft for its PAK-DA long-range bomber requirement.

“I think we need to go down the route of hypersonic technology and we are moving in that direction and are not falling behind the Americans,” he said on Rossiya 24 TV. “We will use this technology when developing a new bomber.”

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Proton Upper Stage Misfire Puts Satellites in Wrong Orbits

After seven months of successes, the Russian launch industry has suffered another setback when a malfunctioning Breeze M upper stage sent a pair of Russian and Indonesian communications satellites into the wrong orbit. ITAR-TASS reports that “the upper stage engine unit worked for only seven seconds instead of planned 18 minutes and five seconds, and the satellites were not put into the planned orbits.”

The nation experienced a string of launch failures from late 2010 to Dec. 23, 2011. The ITAR-TASS story quotes former Roscosmos head Anatoly Perminov, who was fired over the failures, as saying the problem is worse now because of the space agency abolished the department in charge of overseeing launch vehicles and upper stages. This makes it more difficult to identify those responsible for failures.

A press release from ILS explains the latest mishap.

RESTON, Virg. (ILS PR) — On 7 August at 1:32 a.m. local time, a Proton Breeze M vehicle carrying the Express MD2 and Telkom 3 satellites launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Proton M launch vehicle performed nominally, however, the Orbital Unit (OU), comprised of the Breeze M upper stage and the two spacecraft, did not properly reach its transfer orbit and was placed into an off-nominal intermediate orbit. The Aerospace Defense and Roscosmos, are currently monitoring the OU and efforts are now underway to establish contact with the Express MD2 and Telkom 3 satellites.

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Russia’s Soyuz Replacement Delayed to 2018

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

Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin says that Russia’s new six-person Soyuz replacement will not fly until 2018, a delay from the previous 2015-16 time frame:

“We are thinking of higher [compared to the International Space Station] orbits, and flights to the moon, and developing the technology to fly to Mars,” he said. “So we are developing a future system, first of all of course the pressurized, launchable module,” he said.

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Khrunichev Progresses on New ISS Multipurpose Lab Module

While the American part of the International Space Station is largely complete, Russia is continuing work on expanding its capabilities. Below is a brief press release from Khrunichev website about a new module set for launch next year followed by a detailed description.

MOSCOW (Khrunichev PR) — In the Khrunichev Space Center, work is continuing for the flight of the multifunction products laboratory module (MLM) for the International Space Station.

To date, the docking port has been installed on the transition chamber….Equipment layouts for the board layout and the cable network have been installed inside the module. Tests on the temperature control system and the pneumatic hydraulic systems have been undertaken.

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Russian, Kazakh Presidents Agree to Develop Long-Term Plan for Baikonur

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Russian Ruler for Life Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan’s only president ever, Nursultan Nazarbayev, have directed the heads of their respective space agencies to develop a “comprehensive bilateral agreement governing the joint use of Baikonur, the development of its scientific and technological capacity, joint missile systems, training and participation of Kazakhstani specialists in launch services,” the KAZINFORM news agency reports.

The decision was announced last week during Putin’s official state visit to Almaty, a trip that corresponded with a gathering of the space agencies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The commonwealth is a loose association of Russia, Kazakhstan and eight other former Soviet republics.

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Video: Phobos-Grunt Team Threatened with Jail, Treason Charges

This is one seriously crazy ass message from sort sort of deeply dystopian society. If this is actually a serious message, then the Russian space program is doomed. You can’t go around threatening your engineers and scientists like this and expect them to do good work.

Rogozin: Russia to Create Own Version of DARPA

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

Via Russian Ministry of Education and Science

The Military-Industrial Commission (MIC) will soon consider a bill to create a fund that will seek innovative technologies to the domestic military-industrial complex (MIC), Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.

“In the near future, the MIC for the government to consider the documents prepared by us to create an appropriate fund,” he said at a meeting with rectors of the leading technical universities in Russia.

The Vice Premier said that this fund will be analogous to the agency DARPA, acting at the U.S. Department of Defense.

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New Russian Space Czar Hits Ground Running

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

Hardline Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the Kremlin’s new defense and space czar, has hit the ground running this week as he attempts to turn around Russia’s failure-prone space sector.

Rogozin has ordered Roscosmos to produce a report analyzing its recent string of launch failures and to develop a master plan through 2030. The space czar also announced the creation a personnel reserve to deal with a shortage of space workers, and he warned trespassing bloggers to stay off the nation’s strategic space installations — or else.

[UPDATE: View the photos of the bloggers’ nocturnal visits to Energomash here.]

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