Vostochny Launch Was a Success, But Turmoil Continues

Vostochny Launch Was a Success, But Turmoil Continues

Last week’s launch of a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome may have been a success, but turmoil over the spaceport’s construction and the cause of a one-day launch delay continue.  A criminal trial for four officials accused of embezzlement began today.  It follows by one day the resignation of the head of a company that supplied a cable thought to be have been responsible for the scrub and reprimands for the head of Russia’s space agency and the Deputy Prime Minister who oversees the aerospace sector.

Russia announced plans to build a launch site at Vostochny (Eastern) in Siberia in October 2007, but construction did not begin until 2011 and was plagued by delays amid charges of corruption.  Four men have been charged with embezzlement:  Yuri Hrizman, his son Mikhail Hrizman, Viktor Chudov and Vladimir Ashihmin.  Mikhail Hrizman and Chudov are being held in prison, while Yuri Hrizman and Ashihman are under house arrest.  They are accused of embezzling $1.6 million and causing damage to the state of $78.8 million, according to Russia’s news agency TASS.  The criminal trial began today in a military court in Khabarovsk and is closed to the public because it involves state secrets.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the Vostochny launch last week. The launch was delayed by a day and Putin stayed over and commented on the accused men during a meeting of the state commission overseeing the launch.  Regarding the two now under house arrest, he said “If their guilt is proven, they will have to change their warms beds at home to plank-beds in prison.”

The one-day delay is also under investigation. The launch was scrubbed 90 seconds before liftoff when an automated system detected a problem.  Yesterday, Russia’s Izvestiya news agency reported that the problem was a cable that did not meet specifications.  The cable was supplied by NPO Automatics and its director general, Leonid Shalimov, resigned yesterday.  TASS reported that  “[i]t became known that Shalimov received a service incompetence note. Head of Roscosmos Komarov and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the national rocket and space industry, were reprimanded.”

Russia has been coping with a series of launch failures since December 2010 that have undermined confidence in its once legendary rocket business.  A number of organizational changes have been implemented, the most recent of which transformed Roscosmos from a government agency into a state corporation with Komarov as its CEO.  Rogozin was brought in to oversee the aerospace sector in December 2011 after earlier efforts to remedy problems in the Russian space program failed.

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