Roscosmos Deputy Suggests Restructuring

Roscosmos Deputy Suggests Restructuring

Russia continues to investigate the cause of the launch failure of a Progress cargo spacecraft last week, but it was just the most recent of several launch failures that is causing at least one Russian government official to reconsider how the Russian space program is organized.

Vitaliy Davydov, deputy director of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, is suggesting that “it would be beneficial to return the federal space program and the Glonass program to the framework of the state defense order,” according to the Russian news service Ria Novosti.

Glomass is Russia’s navigation satellite system, similar to the GPS system in the United States. A Glonass launch last December on a Proton rocket was expected to make the system fully operational, but the launch failed. It was followed by a failure of a different launch vehicle, Rokot, that was intended to place a geodetic satellite, GEO-IK-2, into orbit. Subsequently, the head of Roscosmos, Anatoly Perminov, was forced to resign. Another Proton failure on August 18 stranded the Express AM-4 satellite in the wrong orbit, and then a week later came the Progress M-12M launch failure on August 24. Roscosmos and NASA are still determining the impacts to International Space Station (ISS) operations in the wake of the Progress failure.

Davydov also suggested that the ISS may not be permanently occupied in the future, but staffed only periodically as the Soviet Union used to operate its Salyut space stations and the Mir space station during its early years. The French news agency AFP quotes Davydov as saying that “Perhaps in the future we will not need a constant manned presence in the lower Earth orbit.”

The comments of one Russian space official do not necessarily mean that the Russian government is seriously considering such steps, but they do underscore the significance of the Progress launch failure and the weakened position of the United States in the ISS partnership now that it is completely dependent on Russia to take crews to and from ISS. The termination of the space shuttle program with nothing to replace it means U.S. astronauts can only travel to the ISS when Russia is willing to take them and at whatever price it sets. A new U.S. crew space transportation system is not expected to be ready until at least 2015 under the most optimistic scenario.

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