Sunday, 7 January 2018

Satellites Gang Aft Agley - Vostochny (Night's Black Agents)

Welcome back!

Let's start the year with a quick look back at a news story that some of you may have picked up on, in the dying days of 2017, and see what can be done to gamify it. In late 2017 Russia announced that one of its rockets went off on a merry jaunt, taking with it a payload of 18 satellites belonging to research and commercial enterprises from the US, Japan, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Norway and, of course, Russia. So why did this unfortunate incident occur? Because someone boobed, and programmed the launch device with the wrong coordinates. The Meteor-M rocket thought it was departing from Baikonur cosmodrome, when in fact its departure point was Vostochny.

The rocket tried to correct, but didn't have time to adjust course, and by the time it passed the crisis point it was aiming back at Earth. Meteor-M's payload ended up in the Atlantic. Among the lost payload were several satellites designed to boost broadband capability for remote locations, planes, and ships, a Japanese satellite designed to monitor space junk in low Earth orbit, maritime communications satellites, and a Russian student-built microsatellite.

This is the second launch from Vostochny. The first went almost without a hitch back in April, barring a slight launch delay, but Russia's track record with satellite launches is lamentable. 2003 is the last year it managed to go twelve months without at least a partial launch failure.

Vostochny is Russia's only domestic cosmodrome, built at fantastic expense in Russia's Far East. It's intended to reduce Russia's dependence on Baikonur, which is in Kazakhstan. Russia pays $115 million yearly rent for use of the Baikonur cosmodrome, and it hopes that the civilian satellite launch market will beat a path to its door if it can get Vostochny working properly. 

Russia may or may not be moving in the right direction. Currently, even with its not-so-great track record, it has something like half the market. However it has competition, and its competitors are more reliable and less expensive. In years to come Russia may find itself cut out of the market, and this gets more likely with each launch failure. Satellites are expensive assets; no doubt Russia's clients are looking at those 18 drowned payloads and thinking, do I really want to trust my umpteen-hundred-thousand dollar telecom satellite, and the future business it's supposed to generate, to this bunch of clowns?

Using the Playing with Real Toys format, let's provide a description, Thrilling Elements and a short scene for Vostochny cosmodrome.

                                                                    Image taken from Roscosmos

Vostochny is in Amur Oblast, southeast Russia, a mountainous area with many rivers and alpine tundra. It has been under construction for some time, and final completion is scheduled for 2018. Two launches have already taken place, the second of which was a dismal failure that resulted in the loss of the payload in the Atlantic.

It is at the watershed of the Zeya and Bolshaya Pyora rivers, and is nearest to the closed town of Tsiolkovsky, originally built in 1961 to service a nearby ICBM installation. Closed means that travel to and through is not permitted without authorization, and the entire area should be considered minimum Heat 2, not Heat 1, for purposes of tracking agents' Heat levels.

It has good links with nearby highways and railroads, and has an abundance of power, as Amur Oblast is well supplied with hydroelectric plants. The cosmodrome will also have its own small town, when it is finished, and seven launch pads, including two for crewed flights. According to Roscosmos, when complete Vostochny will provide up to 80,000 new jobs, either at the cosmodrome itself or at one of the satellite towns & train station. 

Construction has been plagued with problems, and workers have protested or gone on strike several times over unpaid wages and other issues. Corruption has been alleged, and the project hemorrhages money; at an estimated price of $7.5 billion, it is easily the most expensive installation of its kind in the world.  

Thrilling Elements include:
  • A government official or potential customer is being given the grand tour, surrounded by a flock of lackeys, bodyguards and cosmodrome bigwigs.
  • Heavy equipment and expensive satellite payloads move slowly past, towed or carried by complex-seeming loaders.
  • The mobile service tower, all 1,600 tons of it, ponderously moves towards the launch pad, with its expensive and delicate rocket inside.
  • Cosmodrome security conduct a sweep, demanding all nearby produce their official identification.
  • Scientists and officials argue over the meaning of the latest test results, hushing whenever anyone not connected with their project goes within listening distance.
  • The Fuel Service Unit is a constant hive of activity, with supply trucks and rockets coming and going.
  •  Disgruntled workers form an ad-hoc protest. If any of the agents are obviously non-Russian, cosmodrome security and officials will immediately attempt to remove the agents, or at least block their view / confiscate anything that can be used to record or take pictures.
  • The cosmodrome is visited by Vladimir Putin, or someone of similar importance. The number of attendant lackeys, bodyguards and bigwigs doubles, at least, and base Heat increases to 3.
Scene: Unauthorized Access

The agents become aware, through their own sources, that a Conspiracy Node has penetrated Tsiolkovsky, and a cell of three to five Conspiracy agents are operating there for reasons unknown. The exact nature of this cell is up to the Director. For the purpose of this example, using The Zalozhniy Quartet as a reference, the Node is a Lisky Brava outpost, and at least three of the agents on the ground are known members of the mafiya led by an Operative who can work with others, like the Girl or the Con Artists. The Mafiya agents ought to be Thug Boss leader at a minimum; this isn't an operation for amateurs. The remaining two are experts, chosen for their ability rather than their combat stats. The mafiya members of the cell work at the Ledyanaya Railway Station, while the cell leader is a minor official in charge of the sports complex. The town itself is basically a shell; it has residential buildings, schools, a hospital, the railway, the sports complex, and not much else. There's been a recent spike in crime thanks to the influx of workers to build the town; the maifya cell members may be taking advantage of this to smuggle items, like narcotics or DVDs, which can be easily transported and have a good resale value, especially to bored townies.

The cell's job is to infiltrate the cosmodrome and interfere with the launch of a satellite, six months from now. The plan at the moment is to re-rig the launch device with the wrong set of launch coordinates, so the rocket goes off-course. That's why the cell needs the two experts. As to why the cell needs to do this, that's up to the Director, but possibilities include:

The rocket's payload includes a satellite bought and paid for by an important enemy of the Conspiracy.

The rocket's payload includes a satellite bought and paid for by someone the mafiya has been extorting or blackmailing, but who recently developed a backbone. The loss of the satellite is supposed to bring the recalcitrant to heel.

The new coordinates will drop the rocket, expensive payload and all, on something the Conspiracy would very much like destroyed. This may or may not be a target sufficiently important to spark off World War Three.

That's it for now! Happy New Year!   

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