Space-scale defects

Systematic defects and missile assembly errors increase the gap between Russia and the United States and China.
The return of all the produced engines for the Proton-M missiles to the Voronezh Mechanical Plant (VMP) reflects the continuation of the systemic crisis in the industry. But there is also a plus: a return is a sign that the industry leadership does not intend to hide production defects until the last.

On Thursday, Igor Arbuzov, general director of NPO Energomash, told in an interview with RIA Novosti that 71 engines would return to Voronezh for the overhaul: they turned out to have soldering flux, which is not foreseen by technology. Earlier it was reported that faults were detected on three "Protons-M" (15 units). The new data mean that the plant's products for the last 1.5-2 years are recognized as defective: an unprecedented case in the history of Russian cosmonautics.

The current engine recall is not related to the last non-standard launch of the Proton-M in the summer of 2016 (the satellite had to be brought to a given orbit), but reflects the depth of the systemic crisis in the industry. According to the scientific director of the Institute of Space Policy Ivan Moiseyev, a series of failures (including rocket losses during launches) is caused by the obsolete equipment in the industry which hasn't been updated since the 2000s and consequent technological problems. The use of solder, not provided for in documentation, is a blatant violation. However, recognizing and eliminating the defects on the ground is better than hiding it, waiting for the loss of the missile and the expensive satellites installed on it, the editor of the journal "News of Astronautics" Igor Afanasyev believes.

The recall of the engines for the overhaul will result in the transfer of the launches for a long period. According to Arbuzov, the overhaul of all engines will not end before 2018.

Proton-M is a heavy and most cost-effective missile, deferred launches will lead to a partial ousting of Russia from the commercial launch of satellites. Our country in 2016 already lagged in the number of launches behind the US and China, it will not be easy to regain positions, Moiseyev said.

Space achievements are rightly considered one of the symbols of Russia's greatness, but the state says more than it helps the industry. The program of its development until 2025 was reduced in 2015 by 25% - from 3.2 trillion to 2.4 trillion rubles, which together with the sanctions makes it difficult to update the equipment of enterprises and educational institutions. The earnings in the space industry are quite modest: working vacancies at VMP are 16,000-20,000 rubles, the engineer for testing at the spacecraft chemical automatics in Voronezh earns 20,000 rubles, which is even lower than the average salary in the city (25,500 rubles). Uncompetitive salary hinders the employment of skilled workers who are ready to comply with strict technological discipline.

But only wage increase wouldn't be enough, Moiseev said, it is necessary to improve the quality of training of workers and engineers. With time, the situation more nad more resembles the romantic-heroic period of the late 1950s-early 1960s, when technical turmoil was compensated by the enthusiasm of workers and the creative impulse of designers. The space industry returns to the origins of its existence, but in the 21st century. This is hardly good news.