McCain, McCarthy Try to Limit ULA’s Access to Russian Rocket Engines

John McCain
John McCain

WASHINGTON, D.C. (John McCain PR) – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will be introducing legislation in the Senate and House, respectively, that would repeal a provision of the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that effectively allows the unlimited purchase and use of Russian rocket engines manufactured by a Russian company with close ties to the regime of Vladimir Putin for U.S. national security space launches.

The omnibus provision, which was airdropped into the bill by Senate appropriators in secret with no debate, undermines a measure in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (NDAA) that reasonably restricts the purchase of RD-180 rocket engines for military space launches by 2019, effectively rewarding Vladimir Putin and his cronies with a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars.

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Roscosmos is Dead — Long Live Roscosmos!

Vladimir_PutinVladimir Putin signed Executive Order On Abolishing the Federal Space Agency

MOSCOW (Russian President’s Office PR) — In accordance with Federal Law of July 13, 2015 On State Corporation for Space Activities Roscosmos, the President resolved to abolish the Federal Space Agency.

The Russian Federation Government has been instructed to ensure continuity in carrying out the powers and functions being transferred to Roscosmos that had previously been performed by the abolished Federal Space Agency, and to resolve financial, support and other issues pertaining to implementation of the Executive Order.

Editor’s Note: Russia has transformed its space agency into a state-owned corporation that will now control virtually the entire space industry. Whether this change will help solve the industry’s many problems — which include graft, inefficiency, bloat, poor quality control, aging workforce, a shortage of replacement workers, low pay and a lack of innovation  — remains to be seen.  Given Putin’s tendency to centralize everything, it’s probably the only move he could make.

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.
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Prosecutors Find a Whole Lot of Thieving Going on at 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)

It’s been no secret that Russia’s $3 billion Vostochny spaceport has experienced its fair share of corruption, what with alleged embezzler having been captured in Balarus driving around a diamond-encrusted Mercedes and working going unpaid for months at a time.

Earlier this week, Russia’s Prosecutor General revealed the true extent of the theft uncovered thus far: a whopping 7.5 billion rubles ($126 million) has been stolen. That’s 4.2 percent of the $3 billion being spent on the new spaceport in Russia’s Far East.

Officials are hoping to complete work on the new facility by the end of November, with the first launched scheduled the following month.

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.

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Russian Duma Unanimously Rubber Stamps Government Takeover of Space Industry

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

MOSCOW (RSC Energia PR) — Russian Federation Federal Assembly State Duma deputies gave the bill “On Public Space Corporation Roscosmos” its first reading and approved it unanimously. On May 19, 2015 the parliamentarians from all groups raised their voices for setting up a new public corporation: altogether 442 affirmative voices as said in the message published on site of Federal Space Agency Roscosmos.

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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.

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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?

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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).

Roscosmos Linked Bank Placed in Bankruptcy

Vladimir_Putin
Vladimir Putin

While the body count of prominent critics of Leader-for-Life Vladimir Putin rose again last week, the re-nationalization of Russia’s space industry continued to gather steam with a financial move that shows the benefits of being a friend of the Russian president.

The move involved FundServisBank, which was placed in administration (bankruptcy) under the Deposit Insurance Agency. The move was portrayed as an urgent response to a banking crisis caused by western sanctions over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the fall in value of the ruble.

Or was it?

“From a purely economic point of view the bank has no problems … you start to wonder who is behind this,” spokesman Grigory Belkin told The Moscow Times.

Yes, who indeed might be behind it? And why?

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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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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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Year in Review: Launch Industry Disrupted in 2014

div_afspc4_l5
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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