Tag Archives: launch industry

Russia throws in the towel

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who Putin had placed in charge of Russia’s space effort, today said in a television interview that it makes no sense for them to try to compete with SpaceX in the launch market.

“The share of launch vehicles is as small as 4% percent of the overall market of space services. The 4% stake isn’t worth the effort to try to elbow Musk and China aside,” Rogozin said in an interview on the RBC-TV channel on Tuesday.

He estimates the real market of space services at approximately $350 billion, with the creation of payloads, and not the launch of these payloads in space, accounting for the bulk of the sum. “Payloads manufacturing is where good money can be made,” he said.

Translation: We can’t figure out how to cut our costs and build better and cheaper rockets without eliminating many government jobs, so we have decided not to try. And we are going to make believe this failure is a good decision.

In response to the competitive threat from SpaceX, Putin’s government decided to consolidate their entire space industry into a single government corporation, run by their space agency Roscosmos. This reorganization however has failed entirely. Rather than encourage innovation and a lowering of costs, it served to make Russia’s entire aerospace industry a servant of politicians, who are more interested in distributing pork than building an efficient and competitive business.

Rogozin is thus essentially admitting here that Russia has lost its international commercial space business, and is therefore rationalizing that loss by claiming they never really wanted it in the first place.

This story confirms that Russia will be launching far fewer rockets in the coming years. Their dominance as one of the world’s launch leaders is now fading.

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Russia successfully completes first 2018 launch, from Vostochny

Russia today successfully placed two Earth resource satellites plus nine smallsats into orbit, using their Soyuz 2 rocket launching from their new spaceport in Vostochny.

This was the second successful launch from Vostochny, out of three total.

The 2018 launch standings:

5 China
2 SpaceX
2 ULA
1 Russia
1 Europe
1 Rocket Lab
1 India
1 Japan

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The state of the worldwide rocket industry at the start of 2018

In January 2017 I posted a graph that showed the total successful rocket launches, by company and nation, from the years 1998 through 2016. That graph allowed me to note some interesting trends, of which the following were the three most significant:

First, 2016 was the worst year for the Russian rocket industry in decades. In fact, their launch total of only 18 might be the fewest Russian launches in a year since the beginnings of the space race.

Second, China has been aggressively ramping up its launch rate, and in 2016 moved clearly into the top tier of space-faring nations. Their prediction that they are aiming for 30 launches in 2017 is further evidence that this effort is not a temporary thing.

Third, the United States is clearly transitioning away from a government owned and operated rocket industry to one owned and operated by the private sector. Since the retirement of the space shuttle, the federal government has not launched a single rocket that it designed, built, and owns. Instead, every payload put in space by the U.S. has been put there by a private sector rocket.

Below the fold is a new graph. It now includes 2017, but also goes back to 1980, which I think makes a good starting point for the true beginning of the modern the rocket industry. In December 1979 Arianespace successfully completed the first launch of Ariane 1, beginning its effort to build a commercial rocket that would capture market share in the communication satellite industry. In 1980 India launched its first rocket. And in 1981 the space shuttle began flying.
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A review of 2016 launches

Link here. The report essentially confirms my own conclusions that I posted several weeks ago. This new report however also looks at total payloads, something I had not done, and finds that though there was a decline in 2016 in the number of satellites launched, they expect that trend to end in 2017 with the continued growth in the smallsat industry.

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Federal law outlaws launches on foreign rockets

Killing competition: The American launch industry as well as the FAA regulators are in agreement that a 2005 law that limits American small satellite companies from using foreign launch companies should remain in place.

The CSLA, dating from 2005, is the U.S. government’s way of protecting the seemingly forever-nascent U.S. small-satellite launch industry from competing with government-controlled foreign launchers for U.S. business. It seeks to oblige non-U.S. rocket providers to sign a CSLA that, for all intents and purposes, sets U.S. commercial launch prices as the world minimum for government-owned non-U.S. launch providers.

The rationale is that these non-U.S. launchers, not bound by the constraints of profit and loss – but hungry for hard-currency export earnings – will undercut commercial U.S. companies’ launch prices and keep them from gaining market traction.

India’s launch rockets, for example, are designed and built by India’s space agency ISRO, and are backed not by private funds but by government money. The fear is that India could subsidize its rockets so that the price could always be kept below what any American company could charge.

The truth, however, is that competition and innovation, here in the U.S., has so successful undercut foreign prices that no amount of subsidies can hope to compete. Those foreign companies are now scrambling to actually redesign their rockets to lower their costs and thus their prices, rather than asking for more handouts from their governments. This law should be repealed.

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One step closer to a robust competitive space industry

Not surprisingly, last night’s successful launch of Falcon 9 has produced a large number of news articles. Rather than list them all, go to spacetoday.net for the links.

However, I think Clark Lindsey, in describing Elon Musk’s reaction to the successful launch, captured the most important aspect of last night’s success:
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The actual cost to launch

In writing this short post on the efforts of Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences to launch rockets for the small satellite market, Clark Lindsey made this comment:

It costs around $50 million to launch a Orbital Sciences Minotaur 4, which can put 1,730 kg into LEO while the Lockheed’s Athena 2 will cost around $65 million to put 1,712 kg into LEO. SpaceX currently posts charges $54M – $59.5M for launching to LEO 10,450 kg (equatorial) and 8,560 kg (polar). If SpaceX is able to sustain these prices in routine operation, it will obviously result in some disturbance to the launch industry.

Let’s deconstruct these numbers again, this time listing them by the cost per kilogram:
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