Tag Archives: &#039crisis&#039

Russian space program in 'crisis' as Canadian gets set to blast off

As Russia prepares to blast Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques into orbit next week, back on Earth, its space program is confronting existential questions about its ability to find a niche in a rapidly evolving sector and stay relevant.

Saint-Jacques' mission, his first trip into space, will also be the first manned trip to the International Space Station (ISS) since the failed Soyuz MS-10 launch on Oct. 11.

The Dec. 3 event will be a moment of reckoning for Roscosmos, Russia's version of NASA.

Russia's space agency is facing nothing short of an existential crisis, said Pavel Luzin, a space analyst and university professor in the Russian Ural city of Perm.

"I am afraid we are not a reliable partner for the U.S. and Europeans," said Luzin, who wrote his Ph.D on Russian and American space policy. "I see decline [and] a long-term crisis that is based on our inability to adapt our economics and scientific policy to a contemporary world."

Critics in Russia and abroad claim production and financial troubles, which have led to problems and launch failures in Roscosmos' unmanned space program, are now starting to affect its manned missions.

Luzin said the space program is especially important for President Vladimir Putin, as it's one of the few areas Russia can still make a case for being an equal of the United States.

'Ballistic descent'

October's Soyuz MS-10 mission ended in nail-biting fashion just two minutes into the flight, after the spacecraft's booster rockets failed to separate properly.

Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, right, and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques pose with the Soyuz booster rocket prior to the failed launch of the MS-10. (Yuri Kochetkov/Reuters)

That automatically triggered the crew capsule's emergency escape system, sending the Russian and American astronauts on board plummeting back to earth at three times the usual velocity — a so-called "ballistic descent."

Russian investigators concluded a bent sensor designed to detect the separation of the booster rockets failed. The two-centimetre-long piece of metal was apparently damaged by mechanics or engineers during assembly on the launch pad.

"Thankfully, the engineers around the world have been working very hard to get to the bottom of what happened," Saint-Jacques told CBC in an interview in Moscow. "We are very confident now that we know what happened and we've found ways to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Hopefully so. But Russian engineers have also been trying to explain something they discovered in September: a hole drilled in the Russian orbiter section of the ISS.

At first, some Roscosmos leaders suggested it might have been a case of sabotage by U.S. astronauts on board the ISS. But it now appears to have been made on Earth, by someone at a Russian manufacturing plant who then tried to cover up their mistake.

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will be making his first trip to space in December. (Pascal Dumont/CBC )

Stolen money

A damning report released this week by the Kremlin's own auditors demonstrates just how, well, astronomical the financial and production problems with Russia's space program are.

The news agency RIA Novosti quoted Alexei Kudrin, the head of Russia's Accounts Chamber, as saying, "We have big problems with Roscosmos."

Kudrin suggested there has been mismanagement. "Several billions [of rubles] have been lost — that is, essentially stolen — and investigations are underway."

He told a Russian TV station that "irrational spending" abounds, with the agency paying inflated prices to contractors, and that Roscosmos somehow loses track of money for unfinished or idle projects.

This statue is found in the city of Perm, in Russia's Urals, where about 7,000 people work in the Russian space industry. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

On Tuesday, Russian prosecutors revealed they had launched 16 criminal cases against Roscosmos employees, involving everything from improper procurement and fraud to the delivery of faulty or poor-quality products.

The agency said more than 200 officials were involved in the violations. Among the most egregious instances cited by prosecutors was a reported $ 152 million US embezzled during construction of Russia's new space port in Vostochny, in the country's far east.

Essential cooperation

For at least the next year or so, Russia and the U.S. have no choice but to work together.

Since the winding down of NASA's Space Shuttle program, Russia's Soyuz rockets have been the only way of getting NASA astronauts — as well as others from Canada, Europe and Japan — up to the ISS.

The roughly $ 500 million US that NASA pays to Roscosmos each year for seats on the Soyuz, as well as for parts for other rockets, is a critical top-up of the $ 1.8 billion US budget Roscosmos receives from Putin's government.

But in late 2019, NASA plans to start shifting the job of transporting its astronauts to private U.S. companies that are developing cheaper, reusable rockets and eventually reusable crew capsules.

Pavel Luzin, the Perm space analyst, said firms such as Boeing, Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin are poised to take over tasks now performed by Roscosmos. And the Russian agency has been unable to demonstrate it can compete with emerging space technologies.

"Russia's space industry still works like the Soviet space industry, and cannot work in a market environment."

Space analyst Pavel Luzin believes Russia’s space agency is facing nothing short of an existential crisis. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

In interviews with CBC, Roscosmos officials downplayed the challenges, and expressed optimism for the future.

"The more you fly,  the more risk you have," said Sergei Krikalev, Roscosmos' director of manned spaceflight, who is overseeing Saint-Jacques' mission.

Krikalev expressed confidence in the investigation that followed the unsuccessful launch, and in the measures Roscosmos has implemented since.   

"A lot of people are working to provide safety and reliability of the hardware,"  he said.

Krikalev said Roscosmos launched an unmanned cargo-carrying Soyuz rocket on Nov. 16 without incident, indicating the booster problem has been resolved.

Though relying on technology developed over 60 years ago, multiple variants of Soyuz rockets have been remarkably durable. Roscosmos had executed 53 straight successful manned launches before the October incident.

Important meeting ahead

Publicly, NASA officials have been supportive of Russia's efforts to deal with the Soyuz mishap, and expressed confidence in the Roscosmos management team.

But in an unusual step, NASA has asked the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, to come to the U.S. in early 2019 for a series of discussions about the future of cooperation in space.

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, centre, posed for this photo with cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin, left, and U.S. astronaut Nick Hague after the aborted Soyuz launch in October. (Roscosmos via Associated Press)

A former Russian deputy prime minister who's closely connected to Putin, Rogozin is on the U.S. sanctions list and banned from travelling to the United States. His trip requires a special waiver from the U.S. State Department, which speaks to the importance NASA attaches to such face-to-face talks.

Rogozin has outlined ambitious plans for Russia's space program in the decades ahead. They include participating in the U.S. lunar space station proposal, developing new Angara heavy launch rockets and a reusable crew capsule called Federation that could one day take astronauts to Mars.   

Despite a decade in development, the new heavy rocket program has had just one successful launch. There's no timetable for completion of the Federation. And a new spaceport in Russia's Far East that was meant to replace the Soviet-era Baikonur Cosmodrome (which Russia leases from Kazakhstan) is not able to handle manned launches.

David Saint-Jacques, who has spent the past two years learning Russian and training at Russia's Star City complex outside of Moscow, downplayed concerns about how Russia will fare in the years ahead.

"Russians are extremely proud of their accomplishments in space, and they have all good reasons to be proud," he said.

"There are so many new ways of getting into orbit that are coming up. And with all these players, I think we have a bright future."

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

CBC | World News

Citing overdose 'crisis,' police to allow unsanctioned Toronto injection site

Harm reduction workers risked arrest Saturday to set up a pop-up injection site in Toronto’s Moss Park, erecting a tent large enough for a handful of people, furnished with some chairs.

They’ve stockpiled overdose-prevention medication in the hope of saving lives. 

After a spate of overdoses that has left several dead this month already, organizer Matt Johnson of the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance, an advocacy network pushing for drug policy changes, said it was time to act — with or without the city’s permission.

“We’re just here to save lives, like all other first responders,” Johnson said. “We can really make a dent in the number of people overdosing and dying in this city.”

pop up site

Matt Johnson, who works with the organization that opened the pop-up site, says he regrets not opening a site months ago. (Carly Thomas/CBC)

Given a recent spike in overdoses,  the organization decided not to wait for permission from police or city officials, Johnson said. “We should have done this months ago… Morally and ethically we can’t hold back any longer. We just have to be brave and go ahead and do it.”

Staffed by a registered nurse, overdose prevention trainers eager to share life-saving skills, and outreach workers tasked with scouring the park for used needles, the tent will welcome anybody who wants to bring in their own drugs.

Staff will keep watch as the substances are consumed and administer naloxone, the anti-overdose medication, to those who need it.

Crisis ‘supersedes’ concerns about possession, police say

Toronto police spoke with organizers as the tent went up, ultimately deciding to allow it to operate for the time being.

“As Toronto knows, there is an absolute crisis on the streets right now,” said superintendent Heinz Kuck of the Toronto Police Service. 

“Although Toronto Police doesn’t necessarily agree totally with an injection site like this popping up, because we do have the aspect of illegal drugs coming and going, the crisis supersedes that at this point in time.”

pop up site

Harm reduction workers who helped open the overdose prevention site negotiated with Toronto police Saturday to allow the site to operate. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Kuck said it’ll be “business as usual” for officers patrolling the area, with no more officers there than on an average night — and all will be directed not to target anyone using the site, at least for now.

He added that the “absolute professionalism” of the site’s organizers and the process they’ve set up, which includes medical professionals on staff and safe disposal bins for used needles, convinced him to allow the site to remain open.

Run exclusively by volunteers, the site has 140 overdose kits on hand — a mix of injection and nasal spray kits, each containing latex gloves and multiple doses of naloxone. Organizers also plan to distribute kits containing clean needles and crack pipes to reduce the transmission of infections.

pop up site

The Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance said given the spike in overdoses it couldn’t wait for the city’s three official injection sites to open. (Carly Thomas/CBC)

Kuck said at this time “we’re going to allow this to take place for the interests of the Toronto people.”

Pop-up sites work, says nurse

Marilou Gagnon is a nurse and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who founded an advocacy network that champions supervised injection facilities. She said there’s a risk with sites that haven’t received an exemption from Health Canada — technically, they’re illegal, and anybody using or working in them could be arrested.

pop up site

The site will have naloxone kits on hand. The medication can be injected into a muscle or sprayed into the nose with an applicator, seen here. (John Lesavage/CBC)

But applying for that exemption “is long and and it is expensive,” Gagnon said. Because of that, she adds, overdose death prevention sites like the one in Moss Park have materialized despite the threat of legal consequences.

While a federally approved supervised injection site offers more resources, Gagnon said, a pop-up has the advantage of rapid response.

“It can be outdoors, indoors, it can be in a trailer — whatever you can put your hands on. The simpler the better, the cheaper the better. It’s quick, you can implement it. And then you’re focusing on saving people’s lives if they overdose,” she explained.

pop up site

Harm reduction workers celebrated their temporary agreement with law enforcement, who said the site would be allowed to operate for the time being. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Multiple pop-up sites have opened in alleys and community hubs in Vancouver, unsanctioned at first by city officials. But police made no arrests, Gagnon said, and the city’s public health authority eventually endorsed the sites as a means of battling the crisis. “We know they work,” said Gagnon.

One of those sites, open on Vancouver’s Powell Street since December of last year, received a federal exemption months later. It’s now a fully endorsed supervised injection facility.

Toronto’s three official sites, currently undergoing renovations according to Health Canada, will eventually operate out of The Works at Yonge and Dundas streets, Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre and South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

The federal authority has so far approved 16 sites across the country, with several more facilities announced in recent months in Vancouver, Ottawa, Victoria, and several smaller hubs in B.C., including Surrey, Kelowna and Kamloops.

In Montreal, three formal injection sites have been up and running since June after receiving a nod from Health Canada.

Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge, Alta., have applications in the works. 

Alternative approach to illicit drug use

Johnson stressed that organizers view the site as a “public health initiative” that will benefit people who use drugs and the public alike.

“I’m not going to try to convince people that drug use is OK,” he said. “Whether you agree with it or not, this is going to reduce the harms, reduce the impact on your community.”

pop up site

The site has enough room for a handful of people to inject or learn how to use naloxone, the overdose antidote on hand to save lives. (John Lesavage/CBC)

There’s no hard and fast opening date for Toronto’s three federally approved supervised injection sites, the first of which is expected to open some time this fall, he pointed out. Because of that uncertainty, Johnson said he’s “terrified” the unsanctioned site will be dismantled with nothing to replace it — a possibility given they’re lacking Health Canada’s stamp of approval — leaving people without help.

For now he hopes law enforcement will continue to see the site as beneficial.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem. It hasn’t worked, it’s not going to work. The drug war has been going on for decades and it’s an abject failure,” Johnson said. 

“It’s time we try something new.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

CBC | Health News