Russia’s space industry has been dealt one of its heaviest blows since the Soviet collapse after back-to-back rocket launch failures.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin warned this week that quickly resolving issues was “a matter of honour.”
“Rocket-space activity is essential to the country’s social-economic development. It’s a matter of honour for us to give back to Russia, as a space power, its leading position in the world,” Rogozin said.
The latest Russian-built Proton rocket launched last weekend developed a problem in its third-stage engine eight minutes into the flight, resulting in the loss of a Mexican communications satellite.
Proton-M has a history of mishaps, leading to the loss of three navigation satellites last year.
Earlier this month, the unmanned Russian spaceship Progress blasted off loaded with three tons of food, fuel and supplies destined for the international space station, but ground controllers lost contact with the spacecraft just nine minutes after launch.
Ten days later, Progress plunged back to Earth, burning up on re-entering the planet’s atmosphere.
The setbacks threaten to dent Russia’s position in the multibillion global launch market, in which it commands around a 40 percent share.
Some observers suggest Russia’s space programme has been hampered by a brain drain and a steady decline in standards of engineering and quality.
“I think the main problem is human resources on all levels, starting from those who make decisions to those who operate the space products before launch,” suggested Konstantin Kreidenko, editor at Vestnik Glonass magazine.
In one example a Proton crash was traced to an ill-qualified worker violating assembly instructions and hammering orientation sensors upside down.