Russia responds to SpaceX reused booster success


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A bunch of stories from Russia today appear to express that country’s political response to SpaceX’s success yesterday in launching a commercial satellite using a previously flown first stage.

It appears that these stories are quoting a variety of Russian officials who apparently did not get their stories straight. Also, it appears that much of what they are saying here is pure bluster. For example, in the third link the official makes the silly claim that the ability of their rocket engines to be started and then restarted repeatedly proves they are dedicated to re-usability. And the first two links don’t provide much back-up for the claims that they can complete with SpaceX, especially since SpaceX presently charges a third less than they do per launch, and that is using new boosters. With reused boosters SpaceX’s launch fees will be less than half what Russia has been charging for a Proton launch ($90 million vs $40 million).

Similarly, the claim that they will complete 30 launches this years is absurd. They won’t be able to launch Proton until May, at the soonest, because of the need to remove defective parts from all of their in-stock engines. Soyuz launches are similarly delayed while they check its engines also. To complete 30 launches in only seven months seems very unrealistic to me, especially since the best they have done in a full year this century is 34 launches, with an average slightly less than 30 per year.

Nonetheless, this spate of stories and statements by Russian officials shows that they are feeling the heat of competition, and also feel a need to respond. The first story has this significant statement:

Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos is responding to the challenges with available possibilities, he added. “It has announced a considerable reduction in the cost of Proton rocket launches. The commercial price of this rocket’s launch is considerably higher than its prime cost and we have the potential for the price cut. But customers are giving up our services because the number of payloads [satellites] remains unchanged and does not grow. Correspondingly, a new player on the market snatches away a part of orders,” the expert noted.

Because of Russia’s low labor costs they have always had a large profit margin on their Proton launches. The $90 million they charged was set just below what Arianespace charged for its launches. It appears they are now planning to lower their prices further to match SpaceX.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

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12 comments

  • Orion314

    Wow! I look at this as a new head-to-head-toe-to-toe-nuclear combat with the Ruskies!
    ,For all you Kubrick fans. But I digress, this story is exactly the scenario Mr. Z was talking about.
    Top down Fed Mngt vs private corp. The end is a foregone conclusion.

  • LocalFluff

    I don’t pay any attention to what claims are made by or about the Russians in space anymore. They publish these articles right between today’s horoscope and the latest UFO sighting. It’s meant to be infotainment, westerners often misinterpret it as if it were information.

    And another 10 years for Angara 5!? Well, in the launcher business of today 10 years is never. They started Angara development as soon as the Soviet union collapsed, a quarter of a century ago, and they need another decade? It has already launched first stages successfully, still, unworkable. A Russian SLS squared.

  • Commodude

    These headlines are a sad echo of Soviet Pravda.

    Some things just never change. Robert Heinlein wrote about the open and honest Soviet government many decades ago:

    http://www.unz.org/Publication/AmMercury-1960oct-00051

    Along these same lines, the Russians have the best mine clearing capabilities in the world. They’re called infantry.

  • LocalFluff

    Putin:
    “- If I burn this place to the ground and kill everyone involved, to start all over again from scratch. That’s the 10 year plan for Angara. Now, tell me all about your 2 year plan!”

  • wayne

    “Hit Re-set.”

    Quinn from Homeland Understands the Problem
    https://youtu.be/Ct3BsyF64gM
    (2:06)

  • LocalFluff

    Ukraine, not Russia (oh, well, I think that is disputed). The inept government of Ukraine stored all of their ammunition at one place. Last week it all blew up at once. I suppose you’ve seen this:

    https://youtu.be/MpwEZ_9VLD8?t=118

    And the generous border of the EU (also known as the gate to Hell)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ttVr0YFCTs

    And the aftermath (at least an armored anti-mine vehicle is making an effort to try to improve something):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ttVr0YFCTs

  • Frank

    Headline from the last referenced article: “Flight tests of the Angara-A5V super-heavy class carrier rocket at the Vostochny space center in Russia’s Far East may start in 2027, according to documentation prepared ahead of a meeting of Russia’s Military-Industrial Commission.”

    I think we have a new space race between Angara-A5V, SLS and some pigs who are also preparing for flight.

  • ken anthony

    I think the rest of the industry was consoling themselves with the cost of sending the shuttle back up. They were in denial. Now they’re all crapping their pants. This is why, for at least a couple of years now, my biggest worry (even though a fan of SpaceX from the very beginning… and catching grief for it most of the time even up to today) has been that they will not have any real competition.

    If not for Amazon, Bezos wouldn’t be a threat and still may not be. Others can’t be written off, but it will take decades for them to catch up. If SpaceX gets it’s launch rate up which its 4+ launch sites will enable, they are going to be tough to catch.

  • Edward

    Frank,
    I will believe the pigs in flight when I see it.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eul1NlwytF4 (3 minutes)

    Or maybe not.

    ken anthony,
    We will have to see what Blue Origin can do. A benefit of coming later is adapting a better technology or strategy than the first company. If Blue Origin is unable to make an improvement over SpaceX, then they will be stuck taking SpaceX’s overflow, the customers who are too impatient to wait in line for an available Falcon.

    Russia may be able to respond with lower prices, but unless they get better at making improvements (and get the quality back into their quality control), they will eventually find themselves without customers.

    ULA’s cisLunar 1000 idea makes it look as though they are willing to transition from a launch service to a space-based transportation service, if necessary.

    If Skylon works as planned, that single-stage, air-breathing rocket may become the technology to beat.

  • Alex

    @Edward, you wrote:

    “We will have to see what Blue Origin can do. A benefit of coming later is adapting a better technology or strategy than the first company.”

    That is what come exactly also in mind, if I think about Blue origin. SpaceX has not won the battle, because it is not clear about real cost savings by reuse. First signs indicate that cost savings are much smaller as first hopped or announced by SpaceX some years ago.

    Bezos’ reusable “New Glenn” launcher’s first stage design looks more robust compared to F9, displaying a higher inert mass fraction. Also his engines may better designed for often reuse. There are also in differences in stage’s reentry and fly-back scheme. So, my impression by video presented most recently, Blew Origin booster is able to build up some angle of attack in order to break more efficiently at larger attitude, what may allow to save a “reentry” burn as applied by SpaceX. We have to see and wait. The bill is presented at end of the day. We do not know for sure about SpaceX profitability and financial situation.

  • ken anthony

    It’s fairly clear that SpaceX is looking for volume at lower cost. Bezos hasn’t attempted the environment SpaceX operates in. So its success so far could be quite misleading. Barnstorming is a fad, not a long term business. Bezos advantage is Amazon cash which means he can survive mistakes and false starts. I’m glad he’s in the mix, but his vision is very conventional believe it or not and history will show that.

    Boeing is handicapped by how they’ve made money in the past, which isn’t going to last, but they could adapt and become a strong player. Musk is providing the competition ‘forcing function’ that will improve the entire industry.

    Skylon is interesting but they’ve got a lot to prove.

    Dreamchaser sitting on a reusable first stage might take the short flight (a few orbits?) tourist business.

  • Edward

    ken anthony,
    Now that you mention Dream Chaser (I had really only been thinking of launch providers), a big advantage that this craft has over Dragon and Starliner is that as a lifting body, it can stay high in the atmosphere and slow down without an ablative heat shield that has to be replaced. If Dream Chaser’s heat shield is more robust than the Space Shuttle’s, then it should have a quick turnaround time, as there are not any large rocket engines to worry about, unlike the Shuttle.

    Dream Chaser may be the orbiter of choice for many space tourists. I also suspect that a majority of those paying for a ride to orbit would be willing to pay Bigelow some more to put them up in one of his habitat-hotels for a week or two. A game of space handball might be fascinating, maybe even worth the few million dollars extra.

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