Vladimir Putin, space cadet


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Two news stories today demonstrate without question that Russia’s newly reorganized aerospace industry and its project to build a new spaceport are not merely the efforts of mid-level bureaucrats in that aerospace industry.

No, these efforts have been instituted and are being pushed at the very top of the Russian government, by Vladmir Putin himself. It appears that he has decided, or has always believed, that Russia deserves a strong and vibrant space program, run from Moscow, and is doing everything he can to make it happen, as part of his personal vision for Russia.

The first story described a visit on Tuesday that Putin made to Russia’s new space port, Vostochny, in the far eastern end of Russia. While there he noted that construction is several months behind schedule and that this slack must be made up. He then endorsed the proposal put to him by space agency officials that the number of people working on construction should be doubled.

The second story described Putin’s endorsement of the construction of a new Russian heavy lift rocket, capable of putting 150 tons into orbit. Such a rocket would be comparable in power to the largest version of the U.S.’s SLS rocket, not due to be launched, if ever, until the 2020s.

“Today we heard the first concrete words about commencing work on the project. Previously, there was discussion and expert roundtables, but today President Putin gave the preliminary go-ahead for the new rocket,” declared Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who curates the country’s space industry, after touring the Vostochny cosmodrome in the east of the country with the Russian leader.

The news comes on the back of a successful test launch of the long-gestating Angara rocket earlier this summer. The rocket, which is capable of delivering up to 35 tons of cargo into the Low Earth Orbit in its most powerful modification, is the first launch vehicle developed entirely after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Rogozin said that work on the new super-heavy rocket would begin as soon as Angara is in regular use.

Based on this information, construction of this new rocket will begin around 2016 at the earliest, and it will not become operational until sometime late in the 2020s, at the earliest.

All told, Putin has committed significant funds and effort to Russia’s entire space industry. For Vostochny he pledged more than a billion dollars to get the spaceport operational. He also put his Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in direct control of the project, taking it from Oleg Ostapenko, head of the Russia’s space agency Roscosmos. This change made it very clear that Putin himself wants this project finished on time and will be watching what happens very very closely.

Meanwhile, the reorganization and consolidation of Russia’s aerospace industry into one giant government-run organization dubbed the United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC), approved by Putin himself in December 2013, has picked up steam with the government’s take over of Russia’s biggest space company, Energia.

As with Vostochny, this consolidation was undertaken with the express involvement of Putin himself, and has even included the prosecution of one high level Energia official to make sure everyone else toes the line.

Finally, in the past few months stories have been coming out of Russia of a government effort to outline a new long range detailed program for space exploration, including projects for both lunar and planetary exploration.

All of these efforts point to a direct interest and commitment by Vladimir Putin to make his country a leader in space exploration once again. In fact, Putin’s level of interest and participation in space appears greater than any Russian leader since Khrushchev in the 1960s. And when that happened, Russia did some very exciting things in space and forced the U.S. government to respond with its own space program.

Unlike the 1960s, however, this time the U.S. response is likely to come not from the government but from the efforts of a number of private companies. The nature of this competition, big government vs private enterprise, should be quite fascinating to watch unfold.

I bet my money on private enterprise. Russia might get a quick jump start from the personal interest of its new czar Putin, but freedom and the individual dreams of many different people will always win in the end.

12 comments

  • Cotour

    Agree with his philosophies and objectives or not Putin is leading his people. How could he not when our leadership has no other agenda on their plate than race and the further destroying of any progress that has been made in 50 years, “social justice”, the redistribution of other peoples wealth (Marxism), golf and playing Joe cool at fund raising events?

    Putin can do what he is doing because he has no opposition in the world, it is strategically wise to do so now because the next president may not be as “evolved” as our current president. And now we see that there really are consequences to elections.

  • wodun

    IMO, the efforts to put launch services under the control of Russia proper is evidence that Putin has a long term strategy for dealing with the ex-soviet states. In order to reduce any disruption to Russian launch programs, they can not be located in states that are not necessarily friendly to Russia. Putin wants to be certain that whatever he does in or to these states does not effect Russia’s launch industry.

    Putin recognizes that having operations in other countries creates a mutual dependence and changes the power structure of relationships. He doesn’t want a Kazakhstan to have any power over Russia in the manner that Russia has over the USA right now.

    Russia is consolidating industrial power from ex-soviet states to Russia. I wager you will see this happening in many different industries and it explains the strategic importance of the territory they have been seizing from Ukraine. The question is, what are the long term implications? What are Russia’s plans for Kazakhstan after they do not rely on them for launches?

  • Competential

    Soviet collapsed a quarter of a century ago! Get over it!
    This has nothing to do with that ancient history. More important is the extremely huge and aggressive US military expansion into Central Asia, where the US continues to finance and arm fundamentalist islamist terror everywhere. Terrorists who murder Russian civilians with their bombs in subways and hostage taking of entire schools. Russia abandons dependence on Kazakstan because the US has bought their corrupt dictators.

    The worst terror in the world today is the US-Saudi-Sharia law-al Qaida axis of evil. I am glad that at least Russia stands up against this violent islamistisc terrorist aggression against Europe. No one else does.

  • wodun

    “Soviet collapsed a quarter of a century ago! Get over it!
    This has nothing to do with that ancient history.”

    Tell that to Ukraine and Georgia. Putin’s actions have everything to do with the “ancient” history of the past two decades. Does Putin want to reconquer the old soviet states? Who knows but he does want certain things from these states, like the naval base in Crimea.

    In case you haven’t been paying attention, Russia is still a geopolitical threat to the USA and the world.

    The relationships between Russia and their former victims plays a large role in Russia’s foreign policy decisions. Russia doesn’t want to be dependent on them for anything. Why is this? Perhaps it is a signal they want to rebuild the soviet empire or perhaps they don’t want Europeanization to have any negative impacts on Russian interests.

    “More important is the extremely huge and aggressive US military expansion into Central Asia, where the US continues to finance and arm fundamentalist islamist terror everywhere. Terrorists who murder Russian civilians with their bombs in subways and hostage taking of entire schools.”

    The USA was not behind the Islamic militants in Chechnya. Do you really believe that?

    It seems to me that Russia and the USA have a common enemy.

  • Tom Billings

    “Soviet collapsed a quarter of a century ago! Get over it!”

    And yet, Finland became independent nearly 100 years ago, and Putin has talked in meetings about reclaiming Finland, according to Boris Yeltsin’s last Foreign Minister. Putin has threatened Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania more than once. He is rebuilding *not* the Soviet Union, but the Russian Empire.

    As for a US presence in the ME, the movement to revive the Caliphate began in 1928, long before we got much involved there. Reviving the empire that was the Caliphate, and extending its rule over all the Earth is a common theme in the websites of both Salafist and Khomeinist groups. The attempts of the current administration to pander to one revivalist group, and then another, and another, reflect the basic incompetent worldview they hold.

    That basic incompetence has 30 months to run our policies yet. Then we can hope for better.

  • Kelly Starks

    Certainly consistent with Putin and friends talk of exiting the ISS program and going it alone. Besides the utter lack of good political PR for them to be involved in a international space project. Putin has been pumping his people with anti-American propaganda for years now, and helping to support a “enemy space station” is really bad mixed messaging.

    Since Putin really needs to be out of our space program, and their having a strong space program is a big point of pride for Russians (IE politically vital for Putin), I expect that big booster will either be launching a new all Russian station, or manned lunar missions. <aybe they'll even start more seriously looking at Mars?

  • Competential

    The US has been the main supporter of islamist terrorism in the world. having supported the talibans, Saddam Hussein, Saudiarabia (who has the fourth largest military expenditures!), Pakistan (the islamist state with nuclear weapons) and now talk about supporting the Kurds. It has all resulted in total failure and defeat. The only force fighting against islamists in the world today is Russia, and islamists killing each other. The US is holding back Israel from defeating their enemies. Russia is much more efficient as world police than the US is. And they don’t mess with the other side of Earth, they secure their own borders.

  • Competential

    That’s ridiculous. Russia don’t invade other countries, the US does!
    Finland gained their independence from Sweden in 1809 when Russia reluctantly obeyed Napoleons demand to invade Sweden. Russia later liberated Europe from Napoleon. Russia turned Finland into a monarchy with a Russian prince and its first own parliament. 100 years later Russia did little to resist Finland forming a republic. The great modern European metropol of St. Petersburg was the natural focus for Finland. Their first president was an officer in the cavalry of the tsar and naturally had served Russia in war.

    Today many in West confuse Russia with the communists. Communism is the same where ever it takes power. Russian communism is not different from what US communism would be. Has nothing at all to do with Russia as a historic state or Russian national culture. Russia has actually been extremely careful in foreign policy. While Prussia, England, France and even Sweden often have got mixed up in adventurous wars against superior foes, Russia has only began war in alliance with at least one other great power and only against one weak state at a time. Its expansion in Poland in the 19th century was a mutual agreement together with all of Poland’s neighbors. Same in 1939. There is no Russian tradition of running adventurous foreign policy.

    The fear of communism irrationally creates fear of today’s anti-communist Russia.

  • I suspect the rush to get Vostochniy operational, and the push for heavy Angara at Plesetsk, are connected with the ticking clock in Kazakhstan and the imminent threat of the loss of Baikonur access after the impending death of Nazarbayev and consequent crimeazation of Kazakhstan’s northern Russian-majority provinces.

  • For sure, Jim, you are right. These factors are clearly reasons for Russia to hurry the completion of Vostochny along.

    However, my point was to note what appears to be an overall educated and direct interest that Putin is showing to his aerospace industry and space effort. It isn’t just Vostochny that is being shaken up. Everything in Russia’s space effort is being changed, and Putin has apparently been directly involved in every case. And since his model for doing things well is to copy the successes of the Soviet Union, he is remaking Russian space back into what it was back in the 1960s, a single giant heavy industry divided into competing design bureaus that all take their orders from Moscow and from him.

    It is possible this is going to work in the short run, over the next decade. Russia will have a string of successes in space, pushed by a determined Moscow leadership. Long term, however, it will collapse again, as did the Soviet Union, in bureaucracy, corruption, and waste.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Maybe not. The demise of the Soviet Union had to a lot to do with their reliance on following political ideology. Everything was filtered through political ideology and the fact that the Soviet leadership was essentially lying to itself. Putin is a pragmatist and recognized the flaws in relying on ideology above all else. The resurgence of Russia is under the guise of an oligarchy and while corruption will remain a problem, Putin won’t allow it to undermine the government. Putin is a smart operator and as long as he keeps his own personal ambitions in check it is plausible that Russia will re-surge as a dominant world power.

  • Edward

    “The demise of the Soviet Union had to a lot to do with their reliance on following political ideology.”

    The problem with any centrally controlled system is that all you get is what the central controller(s) allows, which is mostly what *he* wants, not necessarily what helps the people; provides consumer technology, service, and quality (and quantity); or advances the overall national interests. The controller does not worry so much about efficient use of resources, because his concern is only the effective use — getting what he wants (and if he has to spend a fortune to complete a launch site on time, then he will go ahead and do so, but those resources could have been used somewhere else).

    This can seem to work, for a while, so Russia may become a dominant world power again, but it is doomed to failure. Eventually, even five-year plans do not achieve their goals. This is why the Soviet Union failed; it chose to dedicate its railroad locomotives to move military assets from its European satellite countries, per a treaty agreement, rather than move food from the farms to the cities. They did not have the locomotive resources to do both, thus the hungry population rebelled.

    Free market (especially capitalist) countries are controlled by the masses. It looks like anarchy, but there is a method behind the apparent madness (usually explained as an “invisible hand,” because people can relate to central control, such as a brain). What you get is what the people want, and some of those people are willing to supply the government with its needs, too. Free market people see and fill needs (including government’s needs), improve consumerism, increase efficient use of resources, and advance national interests as a byproduct (or maybe national interests are another product, because they are seen as a need to be filled). Hunger is rare in free market countries, because the producers see food-needs in advance and plan ahead to fill them at a profit.* This is why communist countries are now moving toward free markets.

    As Putin moves closer to centralized control, he falls into the same trap that Lennon did.

    * Profits are not as bad as some would have you believe. They are the reward for increasing the efficient use of resources.

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