RUSSIAN SPACE CARGO CHIP CRASHES AFTER LAUNCHSeptember 5, 2011
On August 26, 2011, an unmanned Russian space cargo ship on its way to re-supply the International Space Station crashed in Siberia after failing to achieve orbit:
As the article points out, Russia alone was maintaining a capability to carry humans to and from the International Space Station after the retirement of America's space shuttle, and with the crash, the Russian space agency is grounding further manned and unmanned flights until a cause of the crash can be determined.
Let's face it: space accidents do happen, especially on launch. And let's face something else: sending up cargo and/or humans on large bottle rockets is a hazardous enterprise to say the least. Russia's launch vehicles and Soyuz capsules have had their fair share of failures, to be sure. But there is something else going on here, and I hope you noticed it. Russia's launch vehicles and Soyuz capsule have, in one form or another, been around for a very long time, i.e., overall, they are a technology that worked, and the testament to this fact is that they're still around. Russia had the foresight to maintain these technologies when the USA has all but abandoned them.
Russia's space woes now open the door to new players and contenders. The Chinese, for example, have developed their own human launch technologies - again with heavy borrowing from Russia - though they are a long way off from being able to maintain the rigorous schedule of launches to service the space station. India, Brazil, and Japan have also developed heavy lift capabilities, and Europe should never be left out of view.
Make no mistake, the launch failure raises significant questions about Russia's program, but equally, it provides the opportunity and impetus for the "other players" to enter the picture. With the world's economic woes, it remains to be seen who might do so, but there are two countries that do not seem to be effected as badly as everyone else: China, and Germany, so the European and Chinese space programs bear watching carefully.
As for Russia, they're down but by no means out. The Russians will go over the launch failure with a fine-toothed comb, determine the cause of the failure, make corrections, and be back in business. It is only a matter of time, however, before they face some stiff competition.