The program of launches from the Baikonur cosmodrome is in jeopardy. By order of the leadership of Roscosmos all the engines of the second and third stages of carrier rockets Proton-M produced in recent years have been recalled and sent back to the plants. The reason is that the company's "optimizers" replaced blocks containing precious metals with "illiquid components."
The investigation will sort it out
According to Kommersant, the defect was identified during a fire test of one liquid engine of the second stage of the carrier rocket Proton-M. At the same time, all papers showed that the engines had been manufactured in full compliance with the technical documentation.
"According to the documents, signed by the inspectors, engines are in good order," as Kommersant cites the source. Who and on what stage replaced the parts with precious metals with ordinary and not fire-resistant one, as well as who and why had not noticed the substitution, will be up to the FSB and the Prosecutor's Office Investigative Committee to find out. So far, a decision was made to return all engines (RD-0210/0211 - the second stage of the rocket and the RD-0213/0214 - the third dyshr) not to the factory (Voronezh Mechanical Plant, VMZ) but to NGO Energomash, as the latter is believe to have much higher quality of work. In addition, Energomash includes Chemical Automatics Design Bureau, which developed engines.
"It is obvious that to make launches with a defect launcher is irresponsible. After all, the task is not simply to launch a rocket, it is important that the payload's brought to the orbit or beyond," says Igor Bourenkov, a spokesman for the state corporation Roscosmos. This "technical pause" will have serious consequences: in 2017, Roskosmos is required to make 27 launches, and at least eight of them - with Proton. Three Glonass-M satellites, a military communications satellite Blagovest, a geostationary communications satellite EchoStar 21, telecommunication satellites Hispasat 30W-6 (1F) and Asiasat 9, Hydrometeorological apparatus Electro-L No.3, two launches by order of the Aerpospace Forces, several commercial launches ...
As Kommersant cites the words of experts, "full comprehensive inspection of each individual product shall be carried out; it is important to reduce the defectiveness of products at VMZ." This means that the launches must be postponed by few months. In the best case, Proton will fly in June or July instead of February. And these few months of delay will cost a large sum: a penalty for postponing the launch accounts for several percent of the cost.
Not the first time
The official position of Roskosmos is as follows: there is a comprehensive check of the quality of products at the enterprises, "and this explains the possible delay of launches of of Protons". As the press-service informs, even those parameters which "have not been studied for decades" shall be checked. Meanwhile, it is not the first time that Voronezh Mechanical Plant is mentioned in the context of "space problem". In December 2016 it happened twice. On December 1, due to a crash of the transport cargo spacecraft Progress MS-04, on December 28, in connection with the delay of a Proton-M rocket that carried EchoStar-21 communications apparatus. As the Roscomos Commission found out, Progress had failed due to a manufacturing defect in a 11D55 engine, which had been produced by the plant in Voronezh. EchoStar-21, as it turned out, couldn't be launched in time because garbage was found in a steering engine of one of the stages of the carrier rocket. The engine was also produced by VMZ.
Deputy production director, Alexey Uvarov, was appointed Acting General Director of the Voronezh Mechanical Plant. The problems also resulted in checks of engines mounted on Soyuz-FG and Soyuz-U carrier rockets, and their replacement with analogues of other series. :aunches of Soyuzes are scheduled for 21 February and 27 March.
And as for the rest...
On January 20 at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant there was a meeting with the head of Roskosmos Igor Komarov. It was dedicated to improving the quality of space equipment produced by VMZ, and ended with dismissal of Director General. Koptev Ivan quitted his office "on his own accord due to poor performance and product quality." The wording isn't the best one... But it could be worse. On the expected question: "Will there be arrests?" there's no asnwer so far. It is necessary to find out the reasons for component substitutions and their scale. Many engines will have to be reworked, many launches postponed. And yes, lots of fines and penalties paid.