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Proton-M Rocket Carrying Russia's Most Advanced Satellite Crashes 160

Posted by timothy
from the tough-thing-to-get-right dept.
schwit1 (797399) writes "When it rains it pours: A Russian Proton rocket crashed Friday nine minutes after launch. Considering the tensions between the U.S. and Russia over space, combined with the increasing competition for the launch market created by SpaceX's lower prices, another Proton failure now is something the Russians could do without. Moreover, the Russians were planning a lot of Proton launches in the next few months to catch up from last year's launch failure. Many of these scheduled launches were commercial and were going to earn them hard cash. This failure definitely hurts, and will certainly be used as justification by their government in increase its control over that country's aging aerospace industry."
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Proton-M Rocket Carrying Russia's Most Advanced Satellite Crashes

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  • This failure definitely hurts, and will certainly be used as justification by their government in increase its control over that country's aging aerospace industry."

    Because paying folks by the hour rather than by the successful launch is a surefire way to cut Space-X off at the knees. This from the land of the three-man shovel.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      yeah, because paying per successful launch would surely never cause a company like SpaceX to try to cut corners, take unacceptable risks, and get as many launches squeezed in as possible, right?

      When you're talking about people's lives at stake, and lobbing enormous explosive devices around, minimizing people's hours and maximizing the profit isn't necessarily the best answer.

      It's similar to the way private control has completely fucked up the US healthcare system.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Teresita (982888)
        When you're talking about people's lives at stake, and lobbing enormous explosive devices around, minimizing people's hours and maximizing the profit isn't necessarily the best answer.

        The evil capitalist profit incentive has gone a long way toward making the chances of dying in a plane crash approach the probability of winning a lottery. If an airline lost the entire plane on the twenty-fifth flight ala Challenger, and again on the 113th flight ala Columbia there'd be a lot of empty seats.
        • by dave420 (699308) on Friday May 16, 2014 @09:12AM (#47017297)
          That and the massive amounts of regulation that works directly against the "evil capitalist profit incentive". You picked a really bad industry. Try something with fewer regulations - pogs or Justin Bieber CDs or something.
          • by gtall (79522)

            Hmmm, now that I think of it, I think regulating the producing of Justin Bieber CDs would be in the national interest.

            I agree with the regulation comment, the FAA was and is instrumental in making airliners safe. Risk is something companies tend to put a price on, human lives doesn't really enter into that calculation and is probably considered an external cost. The free market might be able to price it in...and the price would fluctuate...depending upon lives lost...which is not a terribly good way to thin

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Actually, if you dig deeper a lot of regulation comes directly from the business themselves. Established businesses often like regulation because it improves the businesses perception (Hey, where government regulated what could go wrong??) while making it harder for start-ups to compete. A really good example of this is the founding of the USDA. Which came about after the European popularity of "The Jungle" which was basically writing down all the sea monster stores of the meat packing industry. I mean he t

        • by deadweight (681827) on Friday May 16, 2014 @09:15AM (#47017305)
          Commercial pilot here: If you think "profit" is why airplanes are safe - I am ROFLMAO x 1000. OMFG you could not be more wrong! I once worked for a place that wanted us to call in on the radio with our registration number insteald of XX airlines Flight XXX so the FAA wouldn't even realize we had paying passengers in our ancient shit-heaps. They were ALL ABOUT profit!
        • by arth1 (260657)

          The evil capitalist profit incentive has gone a long way toward making the chances of dying in a plane crash approach the probability of winning a lottery. If an airline lost the entire plane on the twenty-fifth flight ala Challenger, and again on the 113th flight ala Columbia there'd be a lot of empty seats.

          The evil capitalist profit incentive has ensured that we no longer have manned space flight at all, and depend on the evil socialist from-each-according-to-ability system to do our launches.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @09:20AM (#47017361)

          Um... you are forgetting that the reason that the airlines have such excellent safety records is due to the strict government oversight of just about every aspect of the industry. Pilot, Fight Attendants, Mechanics... heck, even the luggage handlers have to be certified to one level or another by the FAA. Every, even minor, mishap with a plane is documented in detail by the NTSB.

          Yes, if the evil capitalistic profits were welcome to run amok there would be no seat belts, oxygen masks, life jackets, interiors would be of highly combustible materials, and the seats would rip from the floor/collapse in a crash - because all of those things add weight - and weight reduces profits. They are there to make the planes safe - not because the airlines want them there.

          Challenger blew up due to political reasons (decision to not-launch (line engineers) was overridden by upper mgt. to make the president look good). Columbia was due to errant assumptions on the part of the engineers at both NASA as well as Lockheed Martin's. 'There is no way this chunk of lightweight foam could possibly cause any damage.' Ooops...

      • Well, right now Spacex is only shipping cargo, and they have competitors. The cost to launch includes insurance on the cargo, wich is set by the success rate. If they have more failures than their competitiors, the insurance cost will go up.

        The problem would be if they were a monopoly on launches, where the cost of a failure would go down if they didn't have any competitiors.

        If they do start ferrying people, well then they open themselves up to higher liability with a failure. Worse reputation, higher payou

        • Last I checked, when we as a civilization are launching satellites into orbit some costing in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars, the payouts to a family for "my Timmy died in a fiery explosion" would probably be one of those "phew! Thank god it wasn't last weeks rocket that blew up!" moments for their insurance company. The cost of human life just isn't that high to a typical actuary.
          • Somehow, even though the actuaries would say you're right, the PR people would tell you you'd be a dead company. Today a billion dollar satellite explodes, the public doesn't really care. Tomorrow, when a school teacher dies with her students on a rocket, and if that company is found to be grossly liable, they're dead.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @08:48AM (#47017107)

      This is funny to me because even though the Russians beat you in most the early space milestones, the USA finally put a man on the Moon ... by making one giant government-backed project...

      While the Russian approach was to set up various competing design bureaus.

      Like I said, hilarious.

      • by khallow (566160)

        This is funny to me because even though the Russians beat you in most the early space milestones, the USA finally put a man on the Moon ... by making one giant government-backed project...

        While the Russian approach was to set up various competing design bureaus.

        While if we look at today, those design bureaus are still designing and launching rockets while outside of a few pieces of ancient infrastructure and some litter on the Moon, no trace of the Apollo program remains.

        The Apollo program put twelve people on the Moon and a space station (Skylab) in orbit, but it hasn't done anything of consequence since. And the design organizations that built Apollo lost their experience after the Space Shuttle.

    • by Luckyo (1726890) on Friday May 16, 2014 @09:16AM (#47017323)

      It often comes as shocking to many people in the West, but Soviet aerospace industry was pure cutthroat capitalism to the extreme. Competition between respective bureaus was brutal, far more so than current climate in Military Industrial complex in US for example. That is how they ran away several decades ahead of the West in many aspects of that industry. As a result, comparison to current situation with same industry in the West and assuming that what is suggested here is going to Western style "government lead" model is just nonsense.

      Going back to that from the current situation seems like a good plan for the industry in fact. Right now it's massively inbred and corrupt, very similar to industry in the West in the same sectors. This is better than space-x model, this is what it should be - government lead industry that is driven to fierce competition within itself, without the massive overspending that results from need to corrupt government to get contracts and produce profits.

      • Not just the aerospace industry, but military in general. If you look at the history behind most new firearms of Soviet era, for example, the competition was fierce, and competitors plentiful. The contest between Tokarev and Simonov that went back and forth (AVS, SVT, SKS - with PTRS on the side) is one prominent example, but there are many others. Kalashnikov had plenty of competition, as well.

  • I wish that every launch was a success, and that humanity expanded into space faster. But the recent issues come just in time to help SpaceX win the much needed first contracts. They only need to finish their man rating and first stage return, and they are golden.
  • by Chas (5144) on Friday May 16, 2014 @08:46AM (#47017097) Homepage Journal

    Russia: Maybe you should use trampoline to get into space.
    *BOOM*
    America: You know what Yuri? That sounds like a damn smart decision!

  • is going to Siberia.
  • Different problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dan East (318230) on Friday May 16, 2014 @08:52AM (#47017135) Homepage Journal

    Last year's failure occurred immediately - it was clear there was a major issue with one of the first stage engines from ignition. This latest failure was in the third stage. That's actually worse, because it's showing problems across the board with different engines in different stages, which would be because of totally unrelated issues. Sounds like either fundamental engineering issues or major quality and control problems (probably the latter).

  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Friday May 16, 2014 @08:53AM (#47017141) Journal

    After all, the first stage could land safely in the uninhabited steppe to the east.

  • in soviet Russia we crash your rocket!

  • CIA: "Hey Putin, nice rocket you got there. Sure would be shame if something happened to it in flight."
  • The telecommunications satellite that blowed up was the Astrium (Airbus) Express AM4R [eads.net], which was to have replaced the Express AM4, which was lost [nbcnews.com] (injected into the wrong orbit) in August 2011.
    • by bobbied (2522392)

      The telecommunications satellite that blowed up was the Astrium (Airbus) Express AM4R [eads.net], which was to have replaced the Express AM4, which was lost [nbcnews.com] (injected into the wrong orbit) in August 2011.

      So they've done nearly the same thing before? Wow.

      So are we *sure* the Russians are really launching these things and not just hiding them away for their use later?

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:04AM (#47017753)

    It's amazing to me just how ancient most Russian rocket designs are. The Soyuz launcher is literally based on the same design that launched Sputnik, with the addition of a second stage. And even after fifty years of iteration, they still have only a 97.5% success rate with the current Soyuz launchers (Soyuz-U, Soyuz-U2, and Soyuz-FG). That's a full point worse than the Space Shuttle (98.5%), which was a completely new design that didn't have several decades of production testing on basically any of the parts.

    Proton is almost as old, dating back to the Soviet lunar program. It was actually first intended as an ICBM, to launch ridiculously heavy warheads (think Tsar Bomba on an ICBM). The changes since then have been fairly minimal, compared to the design changes American rockets went through. One of the biggest features of the latest Proton-M design is "uses less parts made outside Russia". Counting this latest failure, Proton-M has only an 88.9% success rate.

    The oft-repeated engineering mantra is "quality, reliability, cost - pick two". Russia's antiquated designs don't give you quality (in terms of efficiency or even lifting power), and they really aren't as reliable as you'd expect from such well-established designs. I can only hope that they're cheap enough that it's worth it - and when you're launching multi-million-dollar satellites, maybe cheaping out on the launcher isn't such a good idea.

    • by msauve (701917)

      The oft-repeated engineering mantra is "quality, reliability, cost - pick two".

      What does one give up if they pick reliability and (low) cost? If you can have high reliability without quality, what exactly constitutes "quality," and what does it matter?

      • The oft-repeated engineering mantra is "quality, reliability, cost - pick two".

        What does one give up if they pick reliability and (low) cost? If you can have high reliability without quality, what exactly constitutes "quality," and what does it matter?

        As gman003 noted, quality can include "efficiency or even lifting power." If you let me set the quality metric as "can lift zero kg zero meters off the ground," I can build you a rocket that will do that 100% of the time, and very cheaply.

      • by cellocgw (617879)

        The oft-repeated engineering mantra is "quality, reliability, cost - pick two".

        Make that the "oft-misremembered..."

        The proper 3 ingredients are
        1) quality
        2) time to develop/deliver
        3)Cost

        (obligatory)
        4)...
        5) Profit!

    • Soyuz now uses digital avionics as well. Besides it is supposed to get engine upgrades in the near future.

    • As far as reliability goes, here's the fun fact: if you look at the last decade, and count the success/failure rate for the launches, the results are kinda funny. Here are the stats for 2001-2013:

      Russia: 346 successful launches, 18 failures
      USA: 231 successful launch, 9 failures
      China: 126 successful launches, 4 failures

      In other words, Chinese seem to be doing best at this game.

  • ...use trampolines.

  • Starting at about 1:30 [youtube.com] the exhaust trail starts to waver a bit, and over the next fifteen seconds it becomes really wild (just before the craft disintegrates). You have to watch before that to compare.

    I wonder how many bolts need to break to cause an engine to shear off or shake the thing apart?

  • by asylumx (881307) on Friday May 16, 2014 @12:53PM (#47019305)
    I find this sad because it's one of the sole means we, as a species, have of exploring the next frontier right now. Any time a space launch fails, regardless of who launched it, it sets us all back. The silver lining is, perhaps we can all learn from whatever happened, and hopefully the next launch will be more successful no matter within whose borders it launches.

Mediocrity finds safety in standardization. -- Frederick Crane

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