The Russian Federation's space program has run into hard times. A series of spectacular failures has recently been capped by the malfunction of the country's much vaunted Mars-Phobos mission, GRUNT. After failing to boost from Earth orbit, the advanced space probe and rocket to carry it there, plunged back into the atmosphere leaving fiery trail behind it.
Like the failed probe, the eagerly anticipated mission went up in smoke and so did the $157 million it cost to build it.
Now, Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Russia's space agency Roskosmos, has insinuated that his country's space program may be the victim of ongoing sabotage at the assembly line.
Soyuz rockets workhorse of Russian space program
The heavy-lift rocket series known as Soyuz is the backbone of Russia's space fleet. In production for decades with very little basic modification, the Soyuz series is a time-tested technology that has had few failures in its illustrious career.
That abruptly changed during the past 18 months as one rocket failure after another occurred raising serious questions about why and how such sudden disasters happened.
According to the Telegraph: "Last February, Russia lost a strategically important military satellite, last August a giant communications satellite had to be written off after a disastrous launch, and in December a Russian satellite crashed into Siberia minutes after its launch due to rocket failure."
During a press conference, Popovkin raised the specter that unknown political entities might be the cause of Russia's space woes and the reason for the spectacular failure of the ill-fated Phobos-Grunt mission November 2011.
Speaking to reporters from Izvestia, one of popular Russian daily newspapers, Popovkin said, "It is unclear why our setbacks often occur when the vessels are traveling through what, for Russia, is the 'dark' side of the Earth—in areas where we do not see the craft and do not receive its telemetry readings.
"I do not want to blame anyone, but today there are some very powerful countermeasures that can be used against spacecraft whose use we cannot exclude."
Some in Russian government suspect U.S. interference
While Popovkin was reluctant to publicly accuse any other country, a few in the Russian government have voiced aloud their suspicion that somehow America is behind the series of costly and embarrassing failures. Not only is Russian space effort being hurt, but their international prestige has been tarnished—at least that's how some in Russia perceive the situation.
The suspicion, however, makes no sense. Since the Obama administration basically gutted NASA's manned space program, and the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. is heavily relying on a robust, reliable Russian space program to carry astronauts up to the $100 billion International Space Station (ISS).
Without the Russian rockets, American astronauts are marooned on terra firma and the ISS runs the risk of orbital deterioration. Like the Phobos-Grunt mission it too can fall into a fiery death plunge potentially risking cities. The ISS is big. It would be the largest man-made object to ever fall from orbit.
Plus, there is that $100 billion dollars that would be lost.
Is China responsible?
Any way it's looked at, it makes no military, commercial, or political sense for the U.S. to sabotage the Russian space program.
If the string of spectacular mishaps have occurred because of sabotage, the Russians might look to their south instead of towards the West. China stands to gain mightily from a failed or delayed Russian space program.
The Chinese have announced—and embarked—on bold plans to catch up to both Russia and the U.S. space technology, and then surpass it. They are not hiding their ambitions to establish bases on the Moon—bases many military intelligence agencies believe will be military.
With America's space program in a state of flux and Russia's Soyuz rocket fleet raising questions of reliability, China stand as the only country standing to benefit.
Of course, that's if the Soyuz production line has really fallen victim to acts of sabotage…