Russian Space Program Shakeup Imminent

Russian Space Program Shakeup Imminent

A long expected shakeup in the leadership and management of the Russian space program will take place this week according to Russian media sources.

A series of launch failures since December 2010 on a variety of rockets undermined the Russian government’s confidence in the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the space industry it oversees.  Roscosmos director Vladimir Popovkin was publicly reprimanded by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in August following a spectacular July failure of a Proton-M rocket 17 seconds after liftoff, destroying three government GLONASS navigation satellites.   Three officials of the company that built the rocket, Khrunichev, also were fired.

Russia’s official Itar-Tass news agency reports today that Popovkin is also about to lose his job and Roscosmos will be divided into two parts.  Itar-Tass cites another Russian media outlet, Kommersant, as the source of the story.

Popovkin is likely to resign tomorrow (Tuesday, October 8), according to the report, which casts his departure not only in terms of the series of launch failures, but also his opposition to the idea of breaking up the agency.  Popovkin replaced  Anatoly Perminov, who essentially was fired in 2011 a few months after failures of usually reliable Russian launch vehicles began.  Popovkin’s job was to find and fix the problem, but the failures continued.   In December 2011, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was put in charge of the space sector overall while Popovkin remained at the helm of Roscosmos.  In August 2012, after more failures, Medvedev convened a meeting on the “crisis” in the space industry with demands for reforms.  A bit more than a year and several more launch failures later, the Russian government apparently now is ready to act.

Itar-Tass reports that Roscosmos will be split into two parts and candidates have been selected to head each of them.  One part would retain the title Roscosmos and be in charge of policy and serve as a customer.  Deputy Defense Minister Oleg Ostapenko is identified as the person who will head it.   The other part, to be called the Unified Rocket and Space Corporation (ORKK), will be headed by Igor Komarov, currently director of the AvtoVAZ plant.  Komarov will “take charge of the country’s entire rocket and space industry and it is the ORKK head that will play a key role in the sector’s development,” according to the report.

Anatoly Zak, editor of, adds that another Russian publication, Izvestiya, is reporting that Popovkin is being offered a position of presidential adviser on space activities.


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