Recent reports show that the Russian aerospace industry comprises numerous subsidiaries with unclear functions that still receive project funding. This has just been reported in connection with the GLONASS program and in connection with the finger pointing among top executives of the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Russian Space Systems Corporation.
Russian space industry comes through a difficult period in its history, a period when a new generation of scientists and astronauts should appear to replace retiring specialists of the past and continue their work. But instead these young people decide not to bind their future with Russian space industry and look westward. Space launches continue to fail and step by step Russian space program comes into stagnation.
Sergei Oznobishchev, an Associate Member of the Tsiolkovsky Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, told in an interview to Valdai International Discussion Club about the challenges the industry faces nowadays and about the ways to overcome stagnation in the Russian space industry.
What has caused the setbacks that have been plaguing the Russian space program for the past few years?
Unfortunately, their causes are rather banal. The aerospace industry faces the same problems as industry in general and, indeed, the entire country. As I see it, the main problem is corruption.
Recent reports show that the civilian aerospace industry comprises numerous subsidiaries with unclear functions that still receive project funding. This has just been reported in connection with the GLONASS program and in connection with the finger pointing among top executives of the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Russian Space Systems Corporation. I am afraid that this is a widespread phenomenon, and it must be taken seriously in the corridors of power.
The aging workforce is another important problem. A call to expand astronautical engineering should be accompanied by an effective human resources policy. This policy should hinge on decent salaries at a minimum. Unfortunately, talented young people are looking abroad, where business rules the roost. Many graduates of specialized higher education institutions either find jobs at Western companies or sign up with Russian commercial organizations.
A series of setbacks has highlighted the growing problems in the area of quality control.
All this creates a system-wide problem that undermines the country’s prestige. We must take serious action and adopt serious managerial decisions. Considering the importance of the civilian aerospace industry’s development, it would even be possible to appoint a special deputy prime minister or presidential aide to address these problems.
How will recent resignations, including the resignation of Vladimir Nesterov, General Director of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, influence the sector’s development?
I don’t know all the details of this decision. But, obviously, the bureaucratic system will, first of all, have to respond to an unprecedented chain of “space setbacks” by selecting the most obvious culprit. Quite possibly, Mr. Nesterov was thrown to the lions as evidence that concrete measures are being taken. But as I have already said, we need systematic, rather than isolated, measures. We must completely revise the economic management system and human resources policy in this sphere.
Could you say a few more words about the specific measures that must be implemented in order to modernize the national aerospace industry?
Apart from raising the level of government oversight over the quality of the end-product and spending, we must focus on hiring practices and stopping the industry’s workforce from aging. We should work fast to attract young specialists from other sectors and employ talented young people from higher education institutions. Working in the aerospace industry should once again become prestigious.
Achievements that have resulted from new approaches stand out against the general backdrop of setbacks. Wide-ranging co-production arrangements and responsible interest in the end result is ensuring the success of the Russian-Ukrainian Sea Launch project involving a Zenit space rocket, which orbits spacecraft of various countries from a floating platform near the Equator.
NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden has outlined the agency’s objectives, which have already been included in U.S. budget planning. Such objectives include a manned landing on an asteroid by 2025 and a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. Does Russia have any similarly ambitious projects?
Although the Russian government has not unveiled similar objectives to date, a similarly ambitious objective could improve the performance of the entire national aerospace industry. A Russian-U.S. agreement on jointly implementing such a project would be very useful.
Both sides could exchange new engineering solutions and approaches. Such a project would help considerably strengthen Russian-U.S. relations and would make a meaningful contribution to bilateral partnership, a frequent topic of conversation at summits. However, such partnership does not always materialize in practical matters.