Angara space project gives Russia thorn in the side

Another decision to cancel the launch of Russian booster rocket Angara, which failed to take off June 27 in front of the eyes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was still not ready a day later for a backup launch, has triggered discussions of  possible causes of failures of the project.

According to RIA Novosti, the first test launch from Plesetsk cosmodrome was delayed due to the seal failure of one of the drain valves.

According to preliminary data, the launch was automatically aborted about 15 minutes before the launch. The reason is technical - leaky drain valve of the oxidant pressurization line. To solve the problem, it was decided to drain the rocket of fuel, remove the rocket from the launch complex and take it away for technical inspections. The new launch date has not been determined yet.

The development of the booster rocket Angara, which was to become the first independent Russian development after the death of Sergei Korolev in 1966, started 20 years ago. According to the original plan, the family of Angara rockets, consisting of light and heavy vehicles, was to be launched in operation in 2005. However, the time of the first rocket launch would be postponed for several years. In 2012, the Russian Space Agency calculated that the development of the new rocket cost more than 160 billion rubles.

Angara-1.2PP is a potentially successful project. The problems could be connected with inefficient cooperation of the system of interaction between the government and the industry.

In January last year, South Korean rocket KSLV-1, which is 80% similar to the light version of Angara, successfully flew into space. The main stage of the rocket is the Russian universal rocket module URM-1 that uses oxygen and kerosene for rocket fuel. The rocket itself was produced by the Korean Aerospace Research Institute and Korean Air airline, in cooperation with the Russian Center named after Khrunichev. With the help of Russian technologies, the Koreans hope to succeed in the launch of medium and heavy rockets.

"First, the industry lacks proper control over the quality of products that we had before. Secondly, the level of qualification and professionalism of personnel working in the Russian space industry has been declining. And thirdly, there is corruption," senior researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Major General Vladimir Dvorkin said. 

All accidents of recent years are related to the quality of control of production, its organization, personnel training, etc, RBC reports with reference to CEO of Joint Rocket and Space Corporation, Igor Komarov.

The market to deliver commercial cargoes into space remains the only segment of space industry, where Russia maintains its leadership. About 40 percent of Russian missiles fly with foreign payloads only - satellites and astronauts. However, from the point of view of the entire economy of space industry, this segment is less than one percent. With the arrival of competition, Russia may lose this market too.

After the beginning of operation of Dragon shuttles by U.S.-based company SpaceX, the demand on Russian booster rockets Progress fell by one-third. SpaceX currently develops heavy rocket Falcon Heavy, that is said to drastically reduce the cost of delivery of cargo into orbit. In addition, the company announced the work on the reusable Dragon V2 spacecraft that will be used for the delivery of humans to the ISS.

Earning too little in space, Russia remains one of the leaders on government expenditure on this sector, RBC says. "According to Space Report 2014, the total government spending on space in the world in 2013 amounted to 74.1 billion dollars. The U.S. accounts for more than a half - 41.3 billion dollars. Russia's government spending on space over the past ten years has increased 14 times and reached 10 billion dollars in 2013.

To finance the new state program "Russian Space Activities for 2013-2020," it is planned to allocate 1.8 trillion rubles. However, the goals set in the previous program, which cost the country more than 0.5 trillion rubles, had not been achieved.

More than 70 percent of equipment in the domestic aerospace industry is more than 20 years old. The costs on creating satellites are four times higher than in foreign countries, whereas operational and technical characteristics remain very low. In general, as  the Accounting Chamber recognized last year, the industry developed a system of "collective irresponsibility."


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov