Vostochny — Second Time's a Charm, But Putin Critical of Rocket Industry

Vostochny — Second Time's a Charm, But Putin Critical of Rocket Industry

The first launch from Russia’s new Vostochny (Eastern) launch site was successful today, 24 hours after a first attempt was scrubbed just 90 seconds before launch.  Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the launch, staying an extra day for the second try.   During the wait, he criticized “negligent attitudes” in the Russian rocket industry.

Launch of the Soyuz 2-1a rocket was on time at 10:01 pm Eastern Daylight Time (April 28, 5:01 am Moscow Time) and placed three satellites into their initial orbit nine minutes later.  The three satellites are:

  • Lomonosov, or Mikhailo Lomonosov, named after an 18th Century Russian scientist and writer, (625 kilograms), to study high energy cosmic rays, gamma ray bursts, and Earth’s magnetosphere;
  • Aist-2D (500 kilograms), built by the Progress space rocket center for spacecraft operation and attitude control and studying the effects of the space environment on the spacecraft; and
  • SamSat-218 (1.4 kilograms), a nanosatellite built by Samara State Aerospace University students for testing algorithms to control such spacecraft.

Russia is building Vostochny to replace or at least reduce its utilization of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in neighboring Kazakhstan.   Russia has had to lease Baikonur for $115 million per year from the Kazakh government since Kazakhstan gained its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The construction of Vostochny has been plagued with delays and charges of corruption.  Putin referred to them today during a meeting of the state commission that oversaw the launch.  While insisting that the spaceport was built within standards, there were “certain problems” resulting in six criminal cases and two individuals in jail and another two under house arrest.  “If their guilt is proven, they will have to change their warm beds at home to plank-beds in prison.”

He said that Russia is the leader in terms of number of launches, “but it is bad that we’re confronted with a larger number of setbacks and the reaction to these setbacks must be timely.”  He complained about negligent attitudes in the industry and questioned why there was a technical glitch that recently delayed the launch of Europe’s Sentinel satellite on a Soyuz rocket from Kourou.  (The launch was delayed three times, twice for weather and once for technical reasons).

Overall, however, he was pleased that Russia did not abandon the industry as some proposed in the 1990s:  “Thank god we came to our senses, changed our minds in time.”

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