Before the meeting, the President got an overview of the work underway at the site, and inspected the assembly and testing and launch facilities, as well as the command centre, which coordinates the rocket launches.
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Opening remarks at the meeting
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, once again, good afternoon,
Today, we will analyse the work underway on getting the national Vostochny Space Launch Centre ready for operation. This is one of our biggest national projects. We just inspected the construction site and already began this discussion while out there at the site.
Let me start by saying that you have already accomplished a lot. The road and rail links are in place now and complex technical facilities have been built. Work on the first stage of Soyuz-2 rocket facilities needed for launching automated spacecraft is near completion now.
Let me remind you that we plan to develop the space launch centre for carrying out manned spaceflight programmes and for launching heavy rockets and perhaps even super-heavy rockets. I say ‘perhaps’ because most of you taking part in today’s meeting know that we need to think about the actual workload this would offer and the need to make this programme economically justified. These are future plans, but we need to start thinking about them now.
Of course, we hope to develop international cooperation too. We already have broad international cooperation, and we need to make sure that our partners get the chance to see for themselves that Vostochny is one of the best places for working together. We will develop the centre’s capabilities.
But if we want to carry out these ambitious plans, we first need to settle a number of big and important tasks. I will say a few words now about the more problematic issues. Everything I have to say is known already. These are matters we have already discussed on various occasions in Moscow too. There has been progress, but even so, not all of the issues have been resolved yet.
First, there have been problems with getting projects finished on time. The construction and assembly work is currently behind schedule. I know, as Mr Rogozin [deputy prime minister] reported just now, that he has made a big effort personally to reduce these delays. Before, the work was around eight months behind schedule, but this is now down to four months on average for the different facilities. This is still substantial, however.
I know that at other facilities, including sites abroad, there were similar if not even longer delays, including at the site in French Guiana. We know this, but we need to try to keep to our own deadlines rather than look at how things have gone elsewhere and what delays were encountered.
During this meeting today, I want us to get to the bottom of these complicated situations and once again review and settle the construction timetables. I want to hear from Roscosmos and Spetsstroy on the causes of these glitches and delays. I also want to hear your thoughts on realistic deadlines for having the site ready for operation and carrying out the first launch. We know the plans we had for the first launch.
Let me say again that we must make an effort to keep to our plans for starting work at the space launch centre. We should not do things in a sudden hasty burst just to get them finished on time, however. After all, given the importance and technically complex nature of this project, we must ensure the needed quality of construction work, the highest reliability, and of course, the safety of all infrastructure at the site.
I ask you to keep supervising the construction and assembly work and keep watch on the qualification levels of the specialists involved and the reliability of the subcontractors engaged in this work.
On the matter of subcontractors, Spetsstroy has brought in up to 130 such organisations. Close supervision of these organisations has not been organised. The qualifications of specialists working in this area require particularly close attention because we have seen a sizeable number of construction flaws. It is good that these problems have been detected in good time and measures and decisions have been taken to fix them.
The general contractor has also not always kept to the original project plans, which has led to new project decisions being made. I realise that we are building a unique facility here, perhaps the most advanced and high-tech site of its kind in the world, and we understand that new ideas and solutions can arise during the project, but at the same time, we do need to keep the deadlines in mind and not let construction delays build up.
I say again that we can begin launching spacecraft at this site only after we complete the pre-commissioning works, carry out successful autonomous tests and are completely sure that all systems at the site are safe and reliable in operation. This is particularly important.
Second, a lot of budget money has been invested in this project, around 188 billion rubles in total. We need to make sure that this money is spent as efficiently as possible.
What we see now is that contracts have been signed for a total of 109.2 billion rubles. Spetsstroy received 70.4 billion rubles over 2011–2015, and we have documents confirming work completed and approved for a value of 32.3 billion rubles. This means that 38.1 billion rubles in advance funds have not yet been used.
We must ensure strict monitoring of funds. We know, sadly, that there are suspicions of criminal acts. I say ‘suspicions’ because the investigation is still underway, but I will ask the Investigative Committee to make sure that all work on opening criminal cases is completed and cases opened are sent on to the courts.
We need to make a thorough check of how these advance payments have been spent and make sure that workers’ wages are not paid late. We know, unfortunately, that there have been such problems. Why is this happening? This is not because the state authorities have not made the needed funds available. We have been sending all the needed amounts of money according to schedule. This is happening because there is a system of subcontractor organisations that are using funds sent for the space launch centre to patch up their own holes elsewhere. This is completely unacceptable.
I know that the Finance Ministry has taken the situation under control now and all of the funds are going through the treasury. First of all, this should have been done earlier, and second, there must be no repeat of this situation. Overall, we need to make the way we spend state resources more effective. I want to hear additional proposals on this matter.
Third, we agreed that work on the space launch centre would run in parallel to work on modern housing and social infrastructure so that Vostochny’s future workers and their families will have a normal and comfortable living environment, and qualified professionals will have additional incentives to work in this region.
As I understand it, there have been delays with getting housing ready too. Mr Rogozin showed me two buildings before as we flew over. They are nearly ready for use, but still have a little more work to be done, but there should have been three buildings completed now and ready for use, and four buildings should have been in the full completion stage.
I know that there are some proposals to change the earlier plans and build low-rise housing instead. This is no doubt a justified proposal, but it must be done, and done on time. I want to hear what is being done now to step up the pace of this construction work and hear how you are resolving the housing issue for the site’s workers.
Finally, I spoke about the problems and difficulties, and the outstanding issues and the glitches that have come up, but I do not want this meeting to look like a telling off session or anything of this sort. Much has been accomplished already, but we need to make a particular effort at this final stage, because it is crucial for the entire project’s quality and results.
Mr Rogozin, go ahead please.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin: Mr President,
I will try to give a brief account of the work done by the commission set up a year ago, after your last visit to Vostochny. The commission includes people responsible for the actual work itself, and also representatives of the Accounts Chamber and law enforcement agencies, in order to bring under control the two main areas of putting the construction work at Vostochny in order and coordinating work between the state authorities commissioning the work and the general contractor.
Let me run through the measures we have taken so far. First, we have organised work in three shifts at the facilities needed as a minimum before we can begin actual launch operations.
Second, Dalspetsstroy has moved here to the site itself and has opened an operations office here on site, so as not to be sending paperwork off to Khabarovsk, as was the case previously. We have changed the director at Dalspetsstroy because the previous director was not up to the task.
Vladimir Putin: Where is he now?
Dmitry Rogozin: Mr Volosov [director of the Federal Agency for Special Construction], where is he now? Probably nowhere, right? He is working somewhere on his own account now. He is not under any criminal suspicion, though. Criminal charges have been opened though against his predecessor, Khrizman, who is now in pre-trial detention, and his son, because it was through him that the main construction work orders went.
Vostochny’s general directors have also moved here. They represent the state customer’s interests. We have changed the people at the top there too. The Government has also asked the Construction Ministry to follow the entire construction process too. We established a special adjustments group, headed by Leonid Stavitsky, who is present today, and the first deputy construction minister.
Students are also taking part in the work as part of a national student construction project. More than 3,000 students took part this year, mostly students from construction institutes, who get actual work experience this way, or students at universities that are training specialists for Roscosmos, so that they can see what could become their future place of work. I think this was definitely the right decision, because the students gave a big boost to the space launch centre’s construction this year and have made it possible to step up the pace of work considerably.
Moving on, we made the needed financing available and provided Spetsstroy with advance funds of at least 85 percent of the total contract value, and, as you instructed, we also made additional subsidies available for Dalspetsstroy, which had ended up in serious financial difficulties under the previous directors’ watch.
This financing meant that we were able to increase the average wage for workers at the site. The workers now earn around 36,000 rubles and the engineers and technical staff earn 62,000 rubles. Wages were a lot lower before and it was big problem finding qualified personnel.
As you noted, the Federal Treasury is now solely responsible for making sure that funds are used for their intended purpose.
We have done away with the subcontracting system used before. You named a figure of 130 organisations. According to my information, 250 subcontractors were brought in, all kinds of organisations, including some that have obvious problems with their reputation and the resources needed for this work.
Spetsstroy has decided to transfer the most competent specialists directly to the agency itself. It has its departments attached to each of the minimum launch facilities at the site. We redeployed them to the construction work itself and this has had an impact on the situation.
Overall, the checks have resulted in 20 criminal cases being opened for misappropriation, waste and fraud.
The Labour Ministry has opened around 1,300 administrative cases concerning delays in paying the site’s workers. I, my colleagues and the Labour Ministry have the wage payment situation under control now. We continue to step in with regard to any case of delays even of a few days, and overall, we have put an end to the kind of disgrace that we had at the site last spring.
We are keeping up weekly monitoring through videoconferences and we hold meetings with all federal executive agencies involved in the space launch centre’s work. We have web cameras monitoring all of the main sites. The most important measure, as I reported to you a year ago, is that we now make inspection visits to the site twice a month. Practically all the top officials have been here now, and this has also helped to speed up work to settle the issues that come up during such a large construction project as this.
The work is moving ahead and we have improved coordination between the customer and the general contractor. We have accomplished practically as much work at the site over the last year as we did in the three preceding years.
In April, we approved a comprehensive plan for preparing the first launch and assembling the necessary technological equipment. The equipment has been installed at the minimum launch facilities as from September 1. To give an idea of what this actually means, we are talking here about 1,000 wagons, and 510,000 pieces of equipment at the launch pad alone.
Autonomous tests have already begun for a number of systems now running on routine power supply, but not all of the systems are going through autonomous tests yet because Roscosmos cannot do this yet. It will be able to start this no sooner than two weeks’ time, because we do not yet have constant power, heat and water supply. This is the result of the delays incurred over earlier months and years.
Furthermore, factors such as planned purchases of imported equipment have also had an impact on the work. The sanctions forced us to look for Russian-made equivalents. Then there were a large number of changes to the project blueprints that have also complicated the construction process.
But Mr President, I must mention the very hard work the people here at the site are doing, the builders and the site’s workers. People have been working without weekends, without a single day off, and I have to tell you about these efforts of theirs too.
To sum up, we will carry out the presidential executive order on construction and start of operations in 2015 of the first stage of facilities at the space launch centre needed for preparation and launch of scientific, socioeconomic, dual-purpose and commercial satellites.
Construction work on the first stage really is near completion. We have the rocket, and the satellites and boosters are ready and waiting to be launched.
Regarding the launch itself, we realise the full extent of our responsibility. We, Roscosmos and Spetsstroy know how important this work is for the country. A special state commission will give the approval for carrying out the launch based on the results of all comprehensive flight tests of the launch vehicles. We will make the extra effort needed and do everything to ensure that this launch takes place before the end of 2015. As I said, autonomous tests already began even before the construction work was completed.
At the same time, I want to note that the experience with rocket systems at our space launch centre in Plesetsk and at the Centre Spatial Guyanais shows that the tests took 300 and 309 days. Experience shows that the time lapse from the start of autonomous tests to the launch date takes 5.5 months (40 days on autonomous tests and up to 120 days on comprehensive tests). The technology used in these tests is decided in accordance with regulations. We therefore need a margin of time in order to prepare properly and at the necessary level for the launch. Minus forty temperatures at the end of December might not bother our specialists, but they are not exactly helpful for conducting all the needed tests.
Let me say again that we are ready to work in strictest fashion and have the launch ready to take place at the end of December unless it is decided otherwise.
Finally, on our immediate plans. With the tests now underway, Roscosmos rather than Spetsstroy is taking centre stage. Roscosmos in this respect combines the role of customer and executor of the work. It will be fully responsible now for organising and conducting the tests, approving the facilities for operation and preparing the launch. It is vital now to maintain the current pace and quality of work as we move onto the space launch centre’s second stage of construction.
In this respect, the next task of the commission you set up is to develop the Angara launch system, according to the approved plans, prepare for an unmanned launch of a manned spacecraft in 2021, and for the manned launch in 2023.
Everything is ready for the start of construction work on the second stage.
This ends my report.
Vladimir Putin: The space sector is not the place for hasty bursts of last-minute work and super-human efforts. What we need here are a steady pace of work and reliable quality. We need quality results, not victorious reports.
Let’s agree then that you will complete the work on water and electricity supplies and drainage. The spacecraft need to be prepared for launch, but this is separate work. Let’s set our sights on a first launch in 2016, some time in spring. It would be good to time this for Cosmonautics Day, but there should be no mad rush if this is not possible. Work steadily and calmly to meet the deadline that will be set soon, but just let me know what that deadline will be. Is this agreed?
Dmitry Rogozin: Yes. We will be ready by mid-April.
Vladimir Putin: It does not absolutely have to be so. I said this is not an imperative. Just do the calculations and tell me what would be the optimum deadline – the optimum time.