The competition heats up: Even as Russia today successfully placed a commercial satellite in orbit on the 400th successful Proton rocket launch, Russian sources indicate that — despite budget woes fueled by the drop in oil prices — Russia is moving ahead with the design and construction of a heavy-lift rocket capable of competing with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).
From the last link above:
By 2013, Roskosmos drafted a very preliminary roadmap toward the development of heavy and super-heavy launch vehicles. Not surprisingly, it matched closely the strategy that NASA had followed since 2011 within the Space Launch System, SLS, project.
…As the American SLS project, Russian super-heavy launcher plans envisioned building a rocket with a payload of 80-85 tons in the first phase of the program. A pair of such rockets would be enough to mount a lunar expedition. In the second phase of development, the rocket would be upgraded to carry unprecedented 130-180 tons of payload in order to support, permanent lunar bases, missions to asteroids and expeditions to Mars.
As much as I remain a skeptic of SLS, it has apparently struck so much competitive fear in the Russian leadership that they are now willing to try to copy it. Much like the 1980s, when the Soviet rulers bankrupted their nation trying to duplicate American projects like the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Space Shuttle, Putin is now repeating that error all over again. His country has experienced almost a quarter-century of strong economic growth since the fall of communism because, during that time, they focused on capitalism, private enterprise, freedom, and a bottom-up economic structure. Now, they are beginning to abandon that approach and return to the top-down, centralized system of government planning.
As it did in previous century, it will bankrupt them again in this century. Though the Russian government is denying the reports that they are going to trim their space budget, their government’s budget is going to suffer from the drop in the price of oil. Something will have to give.
Update: This review of a book about modern Russia is definitely pertinent: The Land of Magical Thinking: Inside Putin’s Russia