Proton rocket launch. Image credit: Roscosmos

Jul 30, 2015 Roscosmos launches... reorganization

Sen—On July 13 the Russian President Vladimir Putin finally signed off on a law to turn the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, from an agency into a so-called State Corporation.

Conceived last year, the move is promised to be the most significant restructuring of the Russian space industry since the creation of Roscosmos in 1992.

According to the official statement from the Kremlin, the reform "...aims to perfect the control system of the space activities, preserve and develop scientific and production potential of the rocket and space industry in order to strengthen the defense and security of the state."

The newly-created Roscosmos State Corporation is expected to be a highly centralized body overseeing around 95 companies and will be responsible for all aspects of planning and development of space technology and rocket systems. The design and manufacturing of military ballistic missiles will also be under its wing. Roscosmos became the eighth such mega-corporation in Russia, counting two which are now defunct.

Behind the scenes, observers note that the key purpose of the reorganization is an attempt to reduce overheads, to cut an overblown management structure and to consolidate the flow of funding in order to reduce rampant corruption and waste, which was possible within the byzantine structure of the Russian space industry. Ironically, in the past, state corporations themselves were accused of overspending. In 2009, then-president Dmitry Medvedev even requested the General Prosecutor Office to investigate financial dealings of existing state corporations. However, in the end, the Kremlin decided it would the best way to manage the space industry.


Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev inspects an Orlan spacesuit earlier this month. Image credit: Russian government

The signing of the Federal law governing the new Roscosmos is a culmination of a legislative process, which was preceded by the initial approval of the document by the Duma (parliament) on July 1 and by the Federation Council on July 8. The approval of the law by Putin has started a process of transition from the agency to the corporation, which will continue until May 2016.

According to the plan prepared by Roscosmos this month, the formal registration of the State Corporation will be completed in the first week of August. Before the end of the same month, the corporation is required to appoint its top management—the members of the Monitoring Council and the Director General have to be named by August 11. The Main Directorate have to be formed during the period from August 17 to August 26.

Igor Komarov, who currently heads Roscosmos, will take the position of the Director General.

Members of the Monitoring Council will be responsible for overseeing the authority of the State Corporation, because other federal and regional institutions would have little jurisdiction over its activities.

In the following three months ending on November 6, all assets and funds of the Federal Space Agency will be transferred to the State Corporation. Finally, the liquidation of the Federal Space Agency will be initiated on November 7 and has to be completed by May 7, 2016.

In addition to legislative and management consolidation, the new structure might also mean a lifestyle change for at least some of the 240 thousand employees of Russia's space sector. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin already talked about the formation of techno-cities, which will enclose multiple organizations involved in the space industry. A similar system is used by Russia's powerful nuclear ministry, Rosatom, also a State Corporation, which now serves as a model for the new Roscosmos.

In practical terms, it probably means that towns which are homes to Russian space companies could be closed to outsiders. Indeed, concerns of space industry employees are well founded, because of the current experience of workers at Russia's premier satellite manufacturer, ISS Reshetnev. The company is based in the Siberian town of Zheleznogorsk, which is managed by Rosatom, since it also happened to be a home to a Soviet-era plutonium production center.

Last month, the official newspaper of ISS Reshetnev published a scathing article describing all the hoops one resident had to jump through just to get his own son, who was born in Zheleznogorsk, to visit the town.

According to the newspaper, all permanent residents of Zheleznogorsk have to periodically re-register. Moreover, cumbersome and lengthy background checks are required for anybody trying to enter the place, including relatives of the employees, even if their visit is limited to a residential area on holidays. Remote relatives have to provide extra proof, which is subject to an approval process lasting up to 45 days, while friends of employees often have no way to enter at all!

Although the article admitted an advantage of living in Zheleznogorsk was a lower crime rate, …"at least once, every resident faced a problem of getting pass through town," the newspaper said. "It is good that the exit is free," the article concluded.

Such an arrangement can hardly inspire the young talent, which the space industry is already struggling to attract.

Overall, the jury is still out (and probably will be for years) on how effective the latest transformation will be and whether the new structure can eradicate some of the old agency's failures, such as the grounding of the two main launch vehicles in the agency's fleet following launch failures (the Soyuz on April 28 and the Proton on May 16).

Fortunately, Soyuz rockets were quickly back in business and made several successful missions, while on Wednesday, the Proton was officially set to return to flight on August 28.