Russian spaceport officials are being sacked left and right
December 2, 2020
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by admin


Vladimir Putin, center, and Dmitry Rogozin, far right, tour Russia's new Vostochny Cosmodrome in October 2015.

Vladimir Putin, center, and Dmitry Rogozin, far right, tour Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome in October 2015.

Kremlin

The controversial leader of Russia’s space enterprises, Dmitry Rogozin, has continued a spree of firings that have seen many of the nation’s top spaceport officials fired, arrested, or both.

Most recently, on November 27, Russian media reported that Rogozin fired the leader of the Center for Exploitation of Ground-Based Space Infrastructure, which administers all of Russia’s spaceports. Andrei Okhlopkov, the leader of this Roscosmos subsidiary, had previously faced a reprimand from Rogozin for “repeated shortcomings in his work.” The spaceport organization has more than 12,000 employees.

Earlier this month, Rogozin also fired Vladimir Zhuk, chief engineer of the center that administers Russian spaceports. According to Russian media reports, Zhuk was then arrested for abusing his authority in signing off on water supply contracts.

Both of these officials were working to bring Russia’s newest spaceport, Vostochny, in the far eastern region of the country, up to its full capacity. In an article titled “At Vostochny A Day Never Goes By Without Someone Going to Jail,” The Kommersant newspaper reported that Zhuk knew that water supply networks for the Vostochny spaceport were not completed when he authorized their payment. (This article was translated for Ars by Rob Mitchell).

Construction project drags on

Several other key officials connected with the Vostochny Cosmodrome—under development since 2011 and intended to reduce Russia’s reliance on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan—have also been recently let go. These include Vostochny head Evgeny Rogoz (fired and under house arrest), Vostochny Director Roman Bobkov (fired and arrested), and Defense Ministry Inspector General Dmitriy Fomintsev (arrested).

Construction of the spaceport has been riven with corruption, often through embezzlement, and overall cost estimates of the facility have increased to more than $7.5 billion. Of the planned seven launch pads, just one is operational. A Soyuz-2 rocket first launched from this “Site 1S” in April 2016. A second pad, “Site 1A,” may see the launch of an Angara rocket next year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been critical of delays at Vostochny, most recently in 2019, citing concerns about corruption. It is not clear whether the latest round of firings is related to a recent meeting Putin had with Rogozin to go over the country’s space affairs. It seems that by firing and arresting his subordinates, Rogozin has so far been able to shirk the blame for the Vostochny troubles onto other officials.

Nevertheless, his time may be coming. Rogozin is no stranger to corruption concerns, and Roscosmos is facing serious financial challenges. Not only is Russia no longer receiving large payments from NASA for Soyuz seats to carry its astronauts to the International Space Station, but funding from United Launch Alliance for the RD-180 rocket engine will also be ending within a few years. And there are serious questions about whether Russia’s next-generation Angara rocket will be able to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket for commercial launches.

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