The Planetary Society Blog’s Jason Davis reports on speculation that a string of failures of Russian rockets indicate serious problems afoot in Russia’s space industries.
[This latest incident] marks the fifteenth failure of a Russian rocket in 6 years. Of those, all but two were related to upper stages. Seven were tied to the Proton’s Briz-M, while Soyuz stages have been implicated five times. Three Soyuz failures involved the rocket’s native third stage, and the other two were related to the Fregat.
The current version of the Proton has been around since 2001, and it’s often associated with the word “workhorse.” Soyuz dates back to the dawn of the space age, when an ancestor of the stalwart launcher sent Sputnik into space in 1957. Both rockets have evolved, but in terms of recent history, Russia’s core launch fleet has remained relatively unchanged.
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Earlier this this year, Russia approved a 10-year, $20 billion space budget. That’s barely more than NASA receives in a single year, and represented a 64 percent slash from what was originally proposed in 2014.
“The Russian space sector is short of funding, and may be having difficulties maintaining its quality control standards,” said John Logsdon, a Planetary Society board member and professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.
Additionally, Russia’s workforce is shrinking. Since the 1990s, the country’s population has steadily declined, despite an influx of more than 9 million immigrants. Those migrants have filled some of the country’s job vacancies, but the overall effect, according to the Brookings Institute, is that Russia faces a sharp decline in labor quality.
Worse yet, due to larger economic pressures, the country isn’t able to make large-scale education investments, said David Belcher, an analysis manager at the Washington, D.C.-based Avascent consulting group.