Russia 2013 Space Year in Review

Expedition 37 takes off for the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Expedition 37 takes off for the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Russia once again led the world in orbital launches in 2013, keeping the International Space Station supplied with a study stream of crew members and cargo while earning hard currency with commercial satellite launches.

Although the vast majority of Russia’s launches were successful, the spectacular failure in July of a Proton rocket — which nosedived into the ground shortly after liftoff — accelerated efforts to reform the nation’s failure-prone space program. By the end of the year, the Russian space agency Roscosmos had a new leader and a major effort was underway to consolidate a large part of the bloated and inefficient space sector under a single government-owned company.

During 2013, Russia introduced a new variant of its venerable Soyuz rocket while also making progress on constructing a new spaceport in the Far East and developing a larger human spacecraft to replace the Soyuz transport and a heavy-lift booster to facilitate deep space exploration.


Ostapenko Appointed to Run Roscomos

Oleg_Ostapenko (Credit:
Oleg Ostapenko (Credit:

As earlier reported, Deputy Defense Minister Oleg Ostapenko has replaced Vladimir Popovkin as the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, as part of a major overhaul of the nation’s space industry. He will head up a beefed up space agency that will oversee an industry that will be consolidated under a single commercial company.

Wikipedia has a biography of Ostapenko that is excerpted below:

“Oleg Nikolayevich Ostapenko (born 3 May 1957) is a Colonel General in the Russian Military, Deputy Minister of Defence, and former commander of the Aerospace Defence Forces, a position he held from their foundation on 1 December 2011 until his promotion in November 2012. Prior to this he was commander of the Russian Space Forces from 2008, replacing Vladimir Popovkin….


Report: Popovkin Out as Head of Roscosmos as Industry Reorg Begins

Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin. (Credit: Roscosmos)

It looks like the end of the line for beleaguered Roscosmos chief Vladimor Popovkin, whose two-year reign over the Russian space agency has fallen victim to multiple launch failures and a major industry reorganization they spawned. ITAR-TASS reports:

The Kommersant daily has learnt that Russia’s presidential administration and the government have agreed on the candidates for the posts of the heads of the Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) and the Unified Rocket and Space Corporation (ORKK). According to the newspaper’s sources, the first post of is to be taken by Deputy Defense Minister Oleg Ostapenko, the second by Director of the AvtoVAZ plant Igor Komarov. He will take charge of the country’s entire rocket and space industry and it is the ORKK head that will play a key role in the sector’s development. The current head of the Space Agency, Vladimir Popovkin, who insists on a different version of the Roskosmos reform, will be relieved of his duties….

The Roskosmos head’s resignation is likely to be announced officially as early as Tuesday, the newspaper believes.


Roscosmos Head Reprimanded for Failures

Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Is Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin on the way out?

Russia media are reporting that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev officially reprimanded Popovkin for incompetence on Friday following a series of embarrassing launch failures.

The official reprimand essentially represents a warning to Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin that he faces the sack if he does not rectify the stated shortcomings in his work.

“The head of the federal space agency Vladimir Popovkin must be given a reprimand for improperly carrying out his professional duties,” said the document signed by Medvedev and released by the Russian government.

Popovkin took over Roscosmos in 2011 after his predecessor, Anatoly Perminov, was fired after a series of launch failures. The problems have persisted over the last two years. The most recent failure occurred on July 2 when a Proton rocket went out of control shortly after launch and crashed at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Russia to Undertake Major Reform of Space Industry

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

ITAR-TASS reports that Russian officials will be moving ahead with a plan to transform the nation’s space industry into a joint stock company:

Shortly after the tragic incident Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin declared plans for reforming the Russian space rocket industry and pooling its enterprises. “A decision has been made to create a special commission that will draft a presidential resolution to reform the space rocket industry,” Rogozin declared. As follows from what he said, some “unified integrated entity” will be in charge of all space rocket technologies soon. The proposed structure – likely to be called a United Space Rocket Corporation – will have the status of an open joint stock company, and not a state corporation.


Russian, Ukrainian Rockets Prone to Failure in Recent Years

Another fine day for Russia's space program. A Proton crashes with three GLONASS satellites.
Another fine day for Russia’s space program. A Proton crashes with three GLONASS satellites.

The spectacular crash of Russia’s Proton rocket on Tuesday — with the loss of three navigation satellites — was simply the latest in a series of launch failures that have bedeviled the Russian and Ukrainian space industries over the last 30 months.

The table below shows a tale of woe that began in December 2010 and has resulted in the loss of 15 spacecraft and cost the heads of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and launch vehicle builder Khrunichev their jobs.




Upper Stage




Dec. 5, 2010ProtonBlock-DM3 GLONASS satellitesCrashed in Pacific OceanBlock-DM overfilled with fuel making it too heavy to send satellites into orbit
Feb. 1, 2011RockotBreeze-KMGEO-IK 2Stranded in useless orbitFailed restart of Breeze-KM
Aug. 18, 2011ProtonBreeze-MExpress-AM4Stranded in useless orbitBreeze-M under performance
Aug. 24, 2011Soyuz-UBlock-I (3rd stage)Progress M-12M freighterBurned up over SiberiaBlocked fuel line in third stage
Sept. 27, 2011ICBM
(Possibly Avangard)
Missile failed during initial test, crashed 5 miles from launch siteFailure of first stage
Nov. 9, 2011Zenit-2SB
Fregat (Russia)Phobos-Grunt (Russia)Stranded in Earth orbit, re-entered atmosphereFregat upper stage failure
Dec. 23, 2011Soyuz-2.1bFregatMeridian-5Re-entered over SiberiaFailure of Block-1 third stage engine
Aug. 23, 2012ProtonBreeze-MTelkom 3 (Indonesia), Express MD2Satellites stranded in useless orbits;  Breeze-M later exploded, creating large debris fieldBreeze-M failure
Dec. 8, 2012ProtonBreeze-MYamal-402Placed satellite in wrong orbit; satellite reached planned orbit using on-board propellantEarly shutdown of Breeze-M
Jan. 15, 2013RockotBreeze-KM3 Strela 3M Rodnik satellitesOne satellite reportedly lost, two others placed in orbit; controllers unable to maneuver upper stage to lower orbit for rapid re-entry into Earth’s atmosphereErratic behavior of Breeze-KM
Feb. 1, 2013Zenit-3SL
Block DM-SL (Russia)Intelsat 27Rocket and satellite fell into the seaFirst stage failure
July 2, 2013ProtonBreeze-M3 GLONASS SatellitesCrashed at launch siteFirst stage failure


Russia Plans $70 Billion in Space Spending Through 2020

Roscosmos_logoRussia will spend about $70 billion on its space industry through the end of this decade in an effort to improve capabilities and foster innovation, according to media reports:

Russia will spend 2.1 trillion rubles (about $70 billion) under a state program for the development of the national space industry in 2013-2020, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday….

“The program will enable our country to effectively participate in forward-looking projects, such the ISS [International Space Station], the study of the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies in the solar system,” he said.


Russia Plans Major Reorganization of Space Industry

The Russian government is embarking on an extensive and complicated reorganization of the nation’s space industry that could see Roscosmos transformed into a state-run corporation that would be in charge of the whole kit and caboodle.

A structural reform of Russia’s space industry will see its numerous enterprises united into five or six large holdings, Federal Space Agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said on Monday….

The draft list of industries to get separate holdings includes orbital spacecraft development, in-orbit operation, guidance systems, scientific research, testing and strategic rocketry, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said, also on Monday.


Vostochny: A Spaceport to Nowhere?

Anatoly Zak has a fascinating article over at about how the Russian government is struggling to find a good use for the new Vostochny spaceport it is building at great expense in the Far East. Other government ministries — which are avoiding the project like the plague — have taken to calling the project a “dolgostroi,” which is Russian for an endless construction boondoggle.


Popovkin: Russian Space Industry Needs Massive Downsizing

Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin. (Credit: Roscosmos)

The Russian space sector has between 72,000 and 92,000 excess workers, which makes the industry bloated and uncompetitive, Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin said on Monday.

“The capacity that existed in the Soviet Union is not needed today. There is a lot of obsolete technology that needs to be gotten rid of. It is also impossible to continue to maintain 242,000 workers with the industry using about 48 percent of capacity. The country can’t feed them. There should be a maximum 150,000-170,000 people working in the sector,” Popovkin said.


Roscosmos Chief: Extreme Measures Needed to Save Russian Space Industry — UPDATED

Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin says “extreme measures” are required to prevent the Russian space industry from becoming competitive uncompetitive with Western nations where productivity is two to four times higher.

“If nothing changes, we won’t be able to sell [Russian space technology] in 2015, because Western equipment will be priced 33 to 50 percent lower,” Popovkin said.

In order to raise productivity, Roscosmos ought to be converted into a space industry holding company that is not under direct state control. The new structure would be able to optimize headcounts at enterprises in the sector and better compete to hire the best people, he said.

Popovkin suggested that the “lower stages” in the production chain should pass into private hands, and called for a fundamental shift in the state’s focus from producing a final product to providing conditions conducive to success.

Read the full story.

UPDATE:  James Oberg has written a much more detailed account of remarks that Popovkin gave at an engineering institute on Thursday as well as complaints by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who returned from the International Space Station on Sept. 17, about conditions aboard the Russian segment of the facility. The highlights:

  • Popovkin’s remarks on competitiveness were aimed squarely at Western commercial rocket efforts such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which he worries will make Russia’s launchers uncompetitive within three or four years. (Although Oberg doesn’t mention it, Musk has made a similar prediction.)
  • The launch industry, which is a legacy of the Soviet era, is one of the few segments where Russia is competitive and earns money. It’s collapse would have very severe consequences on the Russian space program.
  • Officials have little idea of what to do with the sprawling aerospace industrial base left over from the Soviet era. The industry has too much capacity and a workforce that is too large and too old, leading to inefficiency and a lack of competitiveness. The technology base also is completely outdated.
  • Russia must simultaneously reduce the number of space companies and workers while attracting new, younger talent that has avoided working in the industry over the past 20 years.
  • Padalka said conditions are so spartan on the Russian segment of the space station, especially compared with the U.S. segment, that he compared them to “khrushchevka,” the derisive nickname given to the massive and uncomfortable apartment buildings constructed in the 1960’s under Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
  • Padalka said that without improvements, the year-long missions that Russia wants to fly to the space station are completely unacceptable. These flights are designed to free up seats on Soyuz spacecraft for tourists who pay tens of millions of dollars for short stays aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Russian Space Program is Rotting Away

Russia Behind the Headlines has a detailed story on the problems besetting that nation’s space program. In brief, Roscosmos is too small, the industry it oversees is too large, the workforce is too old, the technology is decrepit, and there’s not enough money to fund anything very ambitious.

Other than that, things are not bad…


Putin Dismisses Khrunichev General Director Amid Plans for Deeper Reforms

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Russian Ruler-for-Life Vladimir Putin has dismissed Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center General Director Vladimir Nesterov in the wake of last month’s failed launch of a Proton rocket, which stranded two communications satellites in useless orbits.

Russian media report that the Russian president accepted Nesterov’s resignation. Russia has experienced seven launch failures over the past two years, several of which can be tied to failures of Khrunichev produced upper stages.

Media reports said that Nesterov tendered his resignation a week after the Aug. 7 launch failure. However, a statement from Khrunichev said Nesterov remained on the job and could only be dismissed by Putin.


Khrunichev Director General Resigns Following Launch Failure

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Vladimir Nesterov, director general of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, has resigned following the failure of a Proton rocket to place two communications satellites in their proper orbits last week, Russian media sources report.

Nesterov resigned on Wednesday, a day after President Dmitry Medvedev held a meeting to reprimand Russian space officials over the latest launch failure. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin also severely criticized the Khrunichev boss on Monday.