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SPACE FLIGHT 2006 - The Year in Review

Russian Space Activities

With financial support by a slowly improving national economy continuing to grow slightly over previous years, Russia in 2006 showed increased activity in space operations from 2005, launching 12 different carrier rockets (2005: seven). Out of 66 launch attempts worldwide in 2006, 25 space launches were attempted by Russia, again placing it in the lead of spacefaring countries including the US. Its total of 25 attempts, of which 23 were successful launches, was one less than its previous year's 26 attempts (23 successful, same as in 2004): Three new Soyuz-2, six Soyuz-U, two Soyuz-FG (both crewed), two Proton-K, four Proton-M (one failed), five Zenit-3SL (sea launch, counted above under U.S. Activities), one Tsiklon-2, one Molniya-M, one Kosmos-3M, one Shtil (submarine launch of a Kompas-2 science satellite), two Dnepr (one failed, with 18 nanosats), one Rockot (with Kompsat-2 from South Korea), and one Start-1. The upgraded Soyuz-FG rocket's new fuel injection system provides a five percent increase in thrust over the Soyuz-U, enhancing its lift capability by 200 kg and enabling it to carry the new Soyuz-TMA spacecraft, which is heavier than the Soyuz-TM ship used in earlier years to ferry crews to the ISS. Soyuz-TMA was flown for the first time on October 30, 2002, as ISS mission 5S. It was followed in 2003 by Soyuz TMA-2 (6S) and TMA-3 (7S), in 2004 by TMA-4 (8S) and TMA-5 (9S), in 2005 by TMA-6 (10S) and TMA-7 (11S), and in 2006 by TMA-8 (12S) and TMA-9 (13S) (see International Space Station, above).

Russian cosmonauts continue to hold the worldwide lead in spaceflight endurance, headed by Sergei Krikalev with 803 days on six Mir/Shuttle/ISS missions. In second place is Sergei Avdeyev with 748 days (three Mir missions), followed by physician Valery Polyakov with 679 days (two Mir missions), Anatoly Solovyev (652d on five Mir missions) and Alexander Kaleri (611d on 4 Mir/ISS missions). The US astronaut with the longest space duration, holding the U.S. record, is Michael Foale (374d on six Mir/ISS missions).

Commercial space activities

The Russian space program's major push to enter into the world's commercial arena by promoting its space products on the external market, driven by the need to survive in an era of severe reductions of public financing, continued in 2006. First launched in July 1965, the Proton heavy lifter, originally intended as a ballistic missile (UR500), by end-2006 had flown 244 times since 1980, with 15 failures (reliability: 0.938). Its launch rate in recent years has been as high as 13 per year. Of the six Protons launched in 2006 (2005: 7; 2004: 8), five were for commercial customers: Arabsat 4A, failed), Kazakhstan's first spacecraft KazSat 1, Eutelsat's Hot Bird 8, Badr 4 (Arabsat 4B), and Malaysia's Measat 3, the sixth for the State/military (three GLONASS-M navsats, the Russian equivalent of GPS). From 1985-2006, 192 Proton and 422 Soyuz rockets were launched, with 11 failures of the Proton and ten of the Soyuz, giving a combined reliability index of 0.966. Until a launch failure on October 15, 2002, the Soyuz rocket had flown 74 consecutive successful missions, including 12 with human crews on board; meanwhile, another 34 successful flights were added, including eight carrying 23 humans. Additionally, the new Soyuz-2 rocket had three successful launches in 2006 (of three attempts).

On September 19, Russia lost one of its most accomplished space pioneers, legendary Vladimir Sergeevich Syromyatnikov, Russia's top expert for spacecraft docking systems, at age 74 of leukemia. Academician Syromyatnikov developed the docking mechanism that linked the U.S. space shuttle to the Russian Mir orbital facility and later to the ISS. He was a key player in the development of the system that linked the Apollo and Soyuz vehicles in the 1975 ASTP (Apollo/Soyuz Test Project) and later the APAS (androgynous peripheral aggregate of docking) used on Mir, ISS and the U.S. and Russian shuttles.