14 august 2012

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev holds a meeting on problems in space activities

Dmitry Medvedev’s opening remarks:

Take your seats, please. You are all aware of what we are going to discuss. Regrettably, mishaps in spacecraft launches occur quite frequently in this country. In the past 18months we had seven launch accidents and we have lost 10 satellites. This has created an enormous gap between us and other space powers. Needless to say, any launch is a difficult and risky affair, but nothing like this happens anywhere else. Take the latest example on August 6 when we had a mishap with a Proton-M carrier rocket. Such failures cost us billions of roubles. What is particularly unpleasant is that we are also losing our reputation as a major, leading space power even though we are investing more and more funds in our space industry. We have allocated 650 billion roubles for its development in 2012-2015. We must understand what is going on and who assumed responsibility for all these failures, aside from the unfortunate insurance company. I have looked into this problem and it works out that after the payment of the insurance indemnity, the real culprits do not bear any responsibility for these mishaps. So, an enterprise can produce low quality products, and if an insured event takes place with it, this manufacturer is not financially liable for this. I’m not even talking about disciplinary or other responsibility. We must find out who is to blame for the series of recent failures, and where miscalculations were made. In any event, we must determine the measure of responsibility for all those who were involved in these cases. I’ll make some decisions myself today.

Russia has traditionally been strong in space exploration. Despite all our difficulties, our industrial potential is our competitive advantage. Only three countries – Russia, the United States and China – have all the technological capabilities necessary for manned flights. This country accounts for up to 40% of the world’s launches every year. We have excellent resources in this respect, but we must still draw conclusions based on the current chain of failures. Of course, we all know that the industry has systemic problems and that they are not just of a subjective character.  The first one is an obsolete production base – 90% of facilities have been in use for more than 20 years and must be replaced. Second, we have weak bases that participate electronically, and this is a general problem for our industry, including the space industry. Furthermore, our rocket and space equipment is not fully provided with the necessary construction materials and this is also a problem. And, third, we are short of qualified personnel. Our scientific and industrial workforce is aging. The space industry employs only a little more than 20% of people under the age of 30, and this is also a real problem.

Nevertheless, all that I’ve said does not justify the mishaps that have taken place with satellites in the last few years. Mr Popovkin (Head of the Federal Space Agency), you will now report about the current state of affairs and practical measures that you plan to take to improve the quality of the space industry, including the content and institutional forms of Roscosmos (the Federal Space Agency). Monitoring the quality of products also remains an urgent issue. Both issues must be reviewed at the government level within one month, after which I’ll hold a meeting with the participation of all key enterprises of the space industry. I’ll also make other decisions. Let’s turn to the discussion. Thanks to all of you.