A Domestic Newspaper Warns of the Russian Space Program’s ‘Rapid Collapse’

A long and strikingly critical article that reviews the state of the Russian space program was published in the state-aligned newspaper MK this week. This article was written by Dmitry Popov, who has worked at the publication since 1992. Ars Technica reports: The article, translated for Ars by Rob Mitchell, is titled "The Space Program Is Rotting from Within." It begins with the declaration that Russia's space program has a shortage of competent and highly qualified staff, obsolete facilities and technology, and "systemic leadership weakness." And that's just the opening paragraph. Popov goes on to state that Russian space companies are delinquent on promised deliveries for hundreds of contracts. For example, the Khrunichev Center agreed to deliver 10 booster cores for the Angara A5 rocket five years ago. The first five cores were delivered only in March of this year, and the other five are not yet completed. [...] Popov said Roscosmos is struggling even to build its mainstay vehicles, the Soyuz rockets and Progress spacecraft. Consider a recent docking issue with the Progress vehicle, which carries supplies to the Russian segment of the International Space Station. Popov further expressed concern about reliance on Germany to help fuel the Soyuz rocket and the Soyuz spacecraft that launches humans. The issue is that vernier thrusters on the Soyuz boosters and in the de-orbit engines of the Soyuz-MS spacecraft use a special grade of highly refined hydrogen peroxide. Production of this hydrogen peroxide in Russia, however, depends on deliveries of chemicals produced by a German company called Evonik Resource Efficiency GmbH. These deliveries are subject to limitation by international sanctions against the Russian Federation. "That is, the West can stop Russian space launches with a single keystroke," Popov wrote. The article also discusses the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a spaceport in eastern Russia that has been a priority for President Vladimir Putin. However this project, under Rogozin's stewardship, has been beset by construction delays and corruption, such as embezzlement. Of the nearly 1,200 structures planned for construction at the spaceport, only about 200 have been completed, Popov wrote. Construction has yet to begin on more than 40 percent of them. Already, the planned launch of Angara A5 rockets from Vostochny has been delayed from 2021 to 2023, as criminal investigations continue. Popov then turns to Russia's so-called Moon program, which requires development of the Oryol, or "Eagle," spacecraft to fly cosmonauts into deep space. This vehicle was intended to both replace the Soyuz for transporting cosmonauts to the International Space Station and to form part of the lunar program. But aside from that, everything is going swell with Russia's Moon program. Popov also criticizes Rogozin for over-promising on Russian launch efficiency and under-delivering. For example, Roscosmos said there would be 44 space launches in 2019, and 25 were conducted. In 2020, 40 launches were planned and just 17 conducted. This year, Russia has conducted fewer than half of its planned 47 launches. Roscosmos, therefore, has decided to no longer publish its planned number of launches. The overall portrait Popov paints of Roscosmos is that of a wasteful, increasingly decrepit enterprise where almost no money is being invested into the present or future. Instead, the focus seems to be providing high-paying jobs for a handful of technocrats, whose salaries are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Meanwhile, the average monthly wages for technical specialists who build the country's rockets and spacecraft range from $500 to $1,000 a month.

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