Soyuz rocket builder proposes major upgrade

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The competition heats up: The head of the Russian company that builds the Soyuz rocket said today that a new upgrade of that rocket could be built and flying by 2022.

Russia’s future Soyuz-5 carrier rocket will be equipped with advanced new engines using ecology-friendly fuel, according to Alexander Kirilin. “One of the distinguishing features of the Soyuz-5 is the use of liquefied natural gas as fuel,” Kirilin said in an interview with RIA Novosti published on Tuesday. “The engines will be developed from scratch, which would allow us to apply a variety of advanced technological and economic characteristics that would make Soyuz-5 competitive on global markets,” Kirilin said. “The design of Soyuz-5 allows the addition of extra side blocks to make it a heavy-class rocket, but we are focusing now on a prototype with operational payload of 9 metric tons,” he added.

At the same time, Kirillin stressed that the Soyuz-5 will not compete with the ongoing development of the Angara family of carrier rockets. [emphasis mine]

Kirillin is doing a political dance with this interview. On one hand he is trying to sell to the Putin government the idea of developing a new version of the Soyuz rocket — thereby giving his company work for decades hence — in order to increase Russia’s ability to compete in the international launch market. On the other hand, he has to convince that same government that this new Soyuz will not compete with Russia’s new Angara rocket.

The two ideas are contradictory, especially if the upgrade allows the Soyuz to be modular and scalable so it can launch larger payloads, like Angara.

Kirillin’s problem is that the only investment capital available to him comes from the government, which now controls the entire Russian aerospace industry. Under this Soviet-style monolithic set-up, he is not allowed to compete with other Russian companies. However, if he doesn’t convince the government to build something, his company will no longer have a reason for existing.

In other words, creating a single government organization to run all of Russia’s space industry, as Putin’s government has done, was very counter-productive in the long run. It discourages competition while naturally causing the industry to shrink.

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