Why Medvedev Says His Failed Space Program is Bankrupting Russia

By Anthony Smith on August 9, 2012 7:03 PM EDT

Mars
Russia's botched mission to obtain a sample of Phobos, a Martian moon, was the first in a series of recent failures for the once-reputable space program. (Photo: Flickr.com/marscat)

If this were still the cold war, we'd all be giving each other a warm round of applause.

According to his department's own estimates, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia claims that Moscow's golden era of being a frontrunner in the space race may be over thanks in no small part to a loss of respectability and serious funds from a series of hackneyed, failed space projects, which include two satellites that failed to even launch.

To give you an idea of how much that costs, the Proton rocket that failed shortly after it launched on Monday triggered the multimillion-dollar equipment loss from the destruction of Russia's Express-MD2 satellites, on top of Indonesia's Telkom-3. These statistics are given to us straight from Roskosmos, Russia's space agency, so we can trust that these are at least ballpark, if not just a little on the optimistic side.

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Roskosmos blames the failure of an engine in the upper stage of the rocket, referred to as the Briz-M, for the craft's traveling into the incorrect orbit. Last year, Roskosmos had almost the exact same problem with another satellite-- a mistake which then cost them approximately $265 million.

It's an expensive lesson to learn twice.

"I don't know the reason for the loss of our satellites-- whether it is the upper stage, mechanical damage, elementary negligence, or everything together-- but we cannot stand this any longer," Medvedev confessed during a televised meeting of Russian government.

"We are losing out authority and billions of rubles."

To amend the problem once and for all, Medvedev promised he would hold a meeting on the recent failures as early as next week. He chided that the government officials responsible "must report their recommendation on who [sic] to punish and what to do further."

It's not secret that Moscow has been fighting to restore a sense of faith in its space industry after a chronicle of failures in the last year, including the botched mission to obtain rock samples from the Martian moon, Phobos. These failures for this nation, which is responsible for just about 40% of global space launches, completely undermines its reputation in the global marketplace. A betting person may be inspired by these mishaps to look to Europe's Ariane rocket.

Till then, we'll just have to hold tight and see who Medvedev punishes.

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