Despite a leadership change and pending shakeup, the Russian space industry is unlikely to see dramatic shifts as it attempts to right itself in the wake of quality control issues.
Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, has been replaced, according to Russian government media, and a plan to realign several related aerospace companies unveiled at the same time. Popovkin will become a civilian advisor to President Vladimir Putin.
“There won’t be a big change in the Russian space programme over the next 10 years,” says Phil Hylands, a space analyst with Flightglobal/Ascend. “It’s more of a sideways move. I would think the head of Roscosmos would be the natural advisor to the president…if he was demoted I would think he would be sacked and put to pasture.”
The shakeup comes in the wake of a series of quality control failures on Popovkins’ watch, resulting in the loss of two high-profile space missions. Changes in Roscosmos and the associated Russian space industry were unveiled on 9 October, meant to improve quality control and weed out inefficiencies long associated with the Russian space programme.
Popovkin has run Roscosmos since 2011, following a career in the Soviet – later Russian – Space Forces. He is reportedly being replaced by Army Colonel-General Oleg Ostapenko, another former Space Forces commander who currently serves as Deputy Defence Minister. Ostapenko has reportedly been discharged from the Russian Army in anticipation of his new appointment, a routine procedure for taking over the civilian agency.
Major Russian space programmes include supporting the International Space Station, building a new series of Angara launch vehicles and a new launch site for them at Vostochny, in eastern Siberia.
The October, 2011 failure of high-profile interplanetary probe Phobos-Grunt dealt a serious blow to the prestige of Russia’s space manufacturing sector. The probe was meant return soil from Martian moon Phobos, but never left Earth orbit due to faulty radiation protection that affected the spacecraft’s onboard computers. This July saw the destruction of a Proton-M immediately after liftoff from the launch pad, a failure traced to an incorrectly-installed angular sensor; the sensor was installed upside-down, causing the launch vehicle to attempt an immediate 180-degree change in flightpath directly into the ground. The launch vehicle was carrying three Glonass precision navigation satellites for addition to a constellation of similar satellites, one of Russia’s largest and most prestigious flagship space programmes.