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Russian Space Agency Losing Trust After Another Satellite Mission Failure

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(Image: Flavio Takemoto)
(Image: Flavio Takemoto)

WORLD

  • Russia’s space program faces another mishap, affecting telecom services in Indonesia and Russia
  • Use of Proton-M rocket carriers suspended
  • Russian space agency now faces much doubt and scrutiny, struggles to maintain trust
  • Strict quality control issues being put in place in all of Russia’s rocket parts plants 

In an unfortunate follow-up to a series of mishaps in Russia’s space program, the country recently failed to launch two multi-million dollar satellites that were intended to provide Indonesia and Russia with telecom services.

Once a leader in the space industry, Russia’s space agency now faces much doubt and scrutiny among peers and onlookers.

According to Russia's space agency Roscosmos, the booster's initial stages worked well, but the upper stage intended to give the final push to the satellites switched off prematurely and led to the loss of Indonesia's Telkom-3 and Russia's Express MD2 satellites.

As a result, Russia has suspended use of its Proton-M rocket carriers. Roscosmos indicated that the engine's malfunction stranded the two satellites in a low orbit where they can't be recovered.

In a statement to the national news agency RIA Novosti, a source said that “all further Proton launches will be postponed until the emergency commission, which is likely to be established soon, determines the cause of failure.”

The State of Russia’s Space Program

While up against successful space programs, including NASA’s recent eight-month, 566-million kilometer launch and landing of a roving laboratory on Mars, Russia struggles to maintain its trust within the industry.

Back in November, Russia launched a robotic probe developed in an effort to study a moon of Mars only to get stranded in Earth orbit and eventually come crashing down in January.

Just a few months prior to that, a Soyuz booster rocket similar to those transporting cargo and crews to the International Space Station, failed as well. This effort prompted officials to consider leaving the space outpost unmanned.

After investigation, Russian space officials determined accidental manufacturing flaws caused the failure, and the Soyuz launches were reinstated.

Additional failures – including Russia losing a telecommunications satellite in August 2011, a military satellite in February 2011, and three other navigation satellites – preceded those incidents.

According to Russian officials, the botched launches are attributed to the post-Soviet industrial meltdown that halted the modernization of its space program, forcing it to rely on equipment that is now obsolete, an aging workforce and a degradation in production standards.

However, as a result of the recent failure of Russia’s Proton rocket, new quality control measures are being put in place and Russia's space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin has ordered that quality inspection teams be established at all plants that develop rocket parts.

The inspectors are authorized to suspend production if they detect a lack in quality standards.

Key Statistics - World Communication Satellite Industry

  • By 2015, revenue within the global market for satellite-related products and services is expected to reach nearly $220 billion. (source: Global Industry Analysts)
  • In 2014, the global telecommunication services industry is projected to have a value of nearly $1.5 trillion, a rise of 14% since 2009, and a volume of close to 5 billion subscribers. (source: MarketLine)
  • It is anticipated that the government sector, which is currently responsible for 66% of all spacecrafts launched, will remain the leading source of satellite demand. (source: Global Industry Analysts)

By Laurie Juliano-Bachara for
Laurie Juliano-Bachara is a Chicago-based writer who covers the latest topics in professional services, entertainment and business news.

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