The Russian space program is in crisis when David Saint-Jacques prepares to launch


As Russia prepares to blow up Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques into orbit next week, returning to Earth, the space program faces existential questions about its ability to find niches in a fast-growing and relevant sector.

The mission of Saint-Jacques, his first trip into space, will also be the first manned trip to the International Space Station (ISS) since the launch of Soyuz MS-10 which failed on October 11.

The December 3 event will be a moment of calculation for Roscosmos, the Russian version of NASA.

The Russian space agency faces an existential crisis, said Pavel Luzin, a space analyst and university professor at Ural Perm, Russia.

"I am afraid we are not reliable partners for the US and Europe," said Luzin, who wrote his Ph.D on Russian and American space policy. "I see a decline [and] a long-term crisis based on our inability to adapt our economy and scientific policy to the contemporary world. "

Critics in Russia and abroad claim production and financial problems, which have caused problems and failure to launch in the Roscosmos unmanned space program, are now beginning to influence its manned mission.

Luzin said the space program was very important for President Vladimir Putin, because it was one of several regions in Russia that could still make the case to be on par with the United States.

& # 39; Ballistic Descendants & # 39;

The Soyuz MS-10 mission in October ended with nail biting just two minutes after the flight, after the spacecraft rocket failed to separate properly.

Cosmonaut Roscosmos Oleg Kononenko, right, and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques posed with a Soyuz booster rocket before the failed launch MS-10. (Yuri Kochetkov / Reuters)

It automatically triggered the flight crew's emergency escape system, sending Russian and American astronauts on a ship falling back to earth at three times the usual speed – what is called "ballistic descent."

Russian researchers concluded that a bent sensor designed to detect the splitting of the rocket failed. The two-centimeter metal piece was apparently damaged by mechanics or engineers during the assembly on the launch pad.

"Fortunately, engineers all over the world have worked very hard to get to the bottom of what happened," Saint-Jacques told CBC in an interview in Moscow. "We are very confident now that we know what's happening and we have found a way to make sure that doesn't happen again."

I hope so. But the Russian engineers also tried to explain something they found in September: hole was drilled in the Russian orbiter section of the ISS.

Initially, several Roscosmos leaders stated that it might be a case of sabotage by US astronauts on board the ISS. But now it seems to have been made on Earth, by someone in a Russian manufacturing plant who then tried to cover up their mistakes.

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will make his first trip to space in December. (Pascal Dumont / CBC)

Stolen money

A burdensome report released this week by the Kremlin auditor itself shows how good, financial problems and astronomical production are with the Russian space program.

RIA Novosti news agency quoted Alexei Kudrin, head of the Chamber of Accounts of Russia, who said, "We have a big problem with Roscosmos."

Kudrin SuggeSted there is mismanagement. "A few billion [of rubles] has been lost – which was basically stolen – and an investigation is underway. "

He told Russian TV stations that "irrational expenditure" was abundant, with the agency paying increased prices to contractors, and that Roscosmos somehow lost track of money for projects that were unfinished or unemployed.

The statue was found in the city of Perm, in Russian Russia, where about 7,000 people work in the Russian space industry. (Pascal Dumont / CBC)

On Tuesday, Russian prosecutors revealed that they had launched 16 criminal cases against Roscosmos employees, involving everything from improper procurement and fraud to shipping damaged or poor quality products.

The agency said more than 200 officials were involved in violations. Among the most frightening examples cited by prosecutors were reported $ 152 million US embezzled during the construction of a Russian new space port in Vostochny, in the far east of the country.

Important collaboration

At least next year or so, Russia and the US have no choice but to work together.

Since the collapse of the NASA Space Shuttle program, the Russian Soyuz rocket has become the only way to get NASA astronauts – as well as others from Canada, Europe and Japan – to ISS.

About US $ 500 million that NASA pays to Roscosmos every year for seats in Soyuz, as well as for parts for other rockets, is a critical top-up of the US $ 1.8 billion budget that Roscosmos received from Putin's government.

But at the end of 2019, NASA plans to begin shifting the work of transporting its astronauts to US private companies that develop cheaper, reusable rockets, and finally reusable aircraft crews.

Pavel Luzin, Perm space analyst, said companies such as Boeing, Elon Musk and Blue Origin's SpaceX Jeff Bezos were ready to take on the task now carried out by Roscosmos. And Russian agents cannot show it can compete with emerging space technology.

"The Russian space industry still functions like the Soviet space industry, and cannot work in a market environment."

Space analyst Pavel Luzin believes the Russian space agency is facing an existential crisis. (Pascal Dumont / CBC)

In CBC interviews, Roscosmos officials played down challenges, and expressed optimism for the future.

"The more you fly, the more risk you have," said Sergei Krikalev, director of manned space Roscosmos, who oversees Saint-Jacques's mission.

Krikalev expressed his confidence in the investigation that followed the failed launch, and the steps that Roscosmos has been implementing ever since.

"Many people work to provide hardware security and reliability," he said.

Krikalev said Roscosmos launched a Soyuz rocket carrying unmanned cargo on November 16 without incident, indicating the driving problem had been resolved.

Although relying on technology developed more than 60 years ago, several Soyuz rocket variants have been very durable. Roscosmos has executed 53 successful manned launches before the October incident.

Important meeting going forward

The public, NASA officials have supported Russia's efforts to deal with the Soyuz accident, and expressed confidence in the Roscosmos management team.

But in an unusual step, NASA has asked the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, to come to the US in early 2019 for a series of discussions about the future of cooperation in space.

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, center, posed for this photo with cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin, left, and US astronaut Nick Hague after the launch of Soyuz canceled in October. (Roscosmos via Associated Press)

Former deputy prime minister of Russia who has close ties with Putin, Rogozin was on the list of US sanctions and was banned from traveling to the United States. His trip requires a special waiver from the US State Department, which talks about the importance of NASA being bound to such face-to-face talks.

Rogozin has outlined ambitious plans for the Russian space program in the next few decades. They included participating in the US moon space station proposal, developing the new Angara launch rocket and a reusable crew capsule called the Federation that could someday bring astronauts to Mars.

Despite a decade of development, the new heavy rocket program has only one successful launch. There is no schedule for Federation settlement. And a new space port in the Russian Far East intended to replace the Soviet era Baikonur Cosmodrome (which was hired by Russia from Kazakhstan) was unable to handle manned launches.

David Saint-Jacques, who has spent the past two years studying Russian and training in the Russian City Star complex outside Moscow, downplayed concerns about how Russia will progress in the coming years.

"Russians are very proud of their achievements in space, and they have all good reasons to be proud," he said.

"There are many new ways to get into orbit in the future. And with all these players, I think we have a bright future."


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