Tag Archives: Roscosmos

More budget cuts to Russia’s space program

The head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, revealed today that there will be significant additional cuts to the country’s space program in the coming months.

These cuts come on top of the almost one-third cuts imposed from the time the budget for the ten-year plan was first proposed in 2015 and its adoption early this year.

Russia announces it is building “a super-heavy-class rocket”

Government vaporware: Roscomos announced today that it has started design work on “a super-heavy-class rocket” that it plans to launch in 5 to 7 years.

And if you really believe this rocket will launch by 2023 I have this great bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

ExoMars successfully completes long mid-course burn

ExoMars 2016, the European/Russia orbiter/lander mission on its way to Mars, successfully completed a 52 minute mid-course engine burn today in preparation for its October 19th arrival at Mars.

Officially known as the deep-space maneuver, DSM, it was the longest engine burn for the ExoMars-2016 mission before the Mars orbit insertion on October 19, 2016. As a result of the July 28 orbit correction, the spacecraft will need less propellant during its maneuvers in the vicinity of the planet and the Schiaparelli lander will experience slightly less thermal loads during its planned entry into the Martian atmosphere.

Russia negotiating with Australian investors to buy SeaLaunch

The competition heats up: Roscosmos revealed today that Russia is negotiating with investors in Australia to buy SeaLaunch.

I’m not sure how seriously we can take this announcement. The sale still has a lot of problems for any investors. Boeing is owed a lot of money by the SeaLaunch partners, specifically Russia, and the SeaLaunch floating launchpad is docked in the U.S. where they can hold it as collateral

Russia and Europe agree to delay next ExoMars mission

After looking at their schedules the Russians and Europeans have agreed that they cannot meet the schedule to launch the second ExoMars mission by the next launch window in 2018, and have agreed to delay the mission until 2020.

This really isn’t a surprise, since Russia was a late replacement of the U.S. when the Obama administration backed out of the project suddenly. They need time to prepare.

Russian assets in France seized

Russia’s refusal to pay damages in a court case has forced France to seize $700 million owed to Russia’s aerospace industry.

In total, France has seized Russian assets worth $1 billion following the Kremlin’s refusal to pay damages to former Yukos shareholders.

In July 2014, The Hague international arbitration court ruled that Russia must pay $50 billion for expropriating the assets of Yukos. The seized assets include $400 million owed by French-based satellite provider Eutelsat to the Russian Satellite Communications company and $300 million owned by French space launch provider Arianespace to Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, the magazine reported, citing the Shearman & Sterling legal firm which represents the Yukos shareholders.

This story is similar to the Sea Launch court suit by Boeing, whom the Russians owe $300 million. In that case Boeing has moved to block Russia from selling Sea Launch.

Both stories suggest that the Russians are in big financial trouble, partly caused by a lack of understanding of capitalism. In both cases, they formed partnerships with western businesses and failed to realize that those partnerships placed financial obligations upon them. From its Soviet days Russia probably thought they could ignore those obligations if it became inconvenient, and they are now discovering that this is not really possible if they wish to sell their goods to the rest of the world.

I expect Russia’s space industry to increasingly become isolated from the rest of the world market, partly because of these events.

In related news, Roscosmos has revealed that after the initial launch at Vostochny in April, the second launch will not occur until 2017. This indicates that the first launch is merely a face-saving effort to hide the fact that construction is really more than a year behind schedule, not three months.

Russia denies that Proton upper stage failed after launching ExoMars

At a press conference today the head of Roscosmos today countered claims that some failure had occurred after ExoMars was placed on its course to Mars.

Briefing reporters in Moscow, Igor A. Komarov reiterated statements made by Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow, saying the Breeze-M upper stage separated ExoMars without incident and then proceeded with the standard passivation and collision-avoidance maneuvers.

Komarov said he had seen photos taken from a Brazilian ground telescope that appeared to show small objects in the vicinity of the Breeze-M stage and ExoMars. “I do have these pictures, provided by the Brazilian observatory, showing the ExoMars spacecraft surrounded by some dimly illuminated objects reportedly related to the upper stage,” Komarov said.

“Telemetry and other objectively verifiable data available to us, covering the entire time from the separation and the contamination and collision avoidance maneuvers to the passivation of the upper stage, show that all these steps have been performed successfully, without any anomalies,” Komarov said. “There is absolutely no indication of an upper-stage explosion or breakup.”

The uncertainty will only be settled in the next few weeks, when engineers activate all of ExoMars instruments. Should they all be working as expected, then it will likely be that nothing had happened to the Briz-M upper stage, as Roscosmos claims. If not, then Russia has a problem, since it depends on that stage for future Proton commercial launches and will not know what went wrong here.

Russia finally approves 10-year space plan

The announcement yesterday that Russia is trimming its space budget by 30% was actually part of the final approval of their ten-year space plan, under discussion and planning for the past two years.

Interestingly, the 30% cut was only the last reduction of many in the budget plan since it was first announced. Initially, they hoped to budget 3.4 trillion rubles for their aerospace industry over the next decade. The final budget approved yesterday is for 1.4 trillion. That’s a 59% reduction.

Considering that the reductions have forced them to abandon any plans for building a re-usable rocket, they will be increasingly hard-pressed in the next decade to successfully compete for business in the commercial market. While Russia stands still with its older designs, others will be developing new less costly ways to launch rockets. The business will go elsewhere, and they will actually have even less money to work with.

Roscosmos approves space tourism project

The competition heats up? Russia’s giant aerospace monopoly Roscosmos has given formal permission for the development of a suborbital space tourism project, proposed by the formally independent company, KosmoKurs.

Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos has admitted the private space company KosmoKurs to working out a project for the development of a reusable system for space tourism flights, KosmoKurs Director General Pavel Pushkin said on Friday. “Our technical design specification was approved by Roscosmos two days ago. The system’s preliminary design will be created with this document,” Pushkin said at the InSpace forum.

According to him, the technical design specification has also been approved by the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash) and the Keldysh Research Center. In addition, Pushkin said, Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov has already approved the project. “Igor Anatolyevich has taken the project with enthusiasm and gave orders to promote this project”, Pushkin said.

So, if I understand this right, this private company had to get approvals from Roscosmos’s bureaucracy, two other competitive groups within Roscosmos, plus the head of Roscosmos itself, before it would be allowed to proceed with building its independent suborbital operation. I wonder how many bribes KosmosKurs had to pay along the way. I also wonder what kind of quid pro quo deals that had to make in order get those other institutes to give their okay.

With Russia’s aerospace industry function under this kind of set-up, I doubt they are going to get much done in the coming decades.

Russia cancels all Moon missions till 2025

Faced with a shrinking budget and poor economic conditions, Russia has once again trimmed back its proposed ten-year space plan for the next decade in space, cancelling all Moon missions until after 2025.

Russian might now have a giant government-run aerospace corporation, but flying space missions is not really its primary task. Like all government agencies divorced from profit and loss, its primary task is really to provide pork barrel jobs, regardless of whether those jobs do anything useful or not. Thus, Russia will have a very expensive space program for the next decade, but the money spent will not accomplish much of anything new.

Russian officials decide to broadcast launches

The return of the Soviet Union! After experimenting with the online broadcast yesterday of the Soyuz manned launch, Russian officials announced today that they will continue these broadcasts on future launches.

The launch from Baikonur was for the first time broadcast via the Luch (Ray) satellite retransmission system. More than 1,000 people have watched the live broadcast.

The Luch system is designed to solve the problems of relaying information of monitoring and control of low-orbit spacecraft, manned space systems, including the Russian segment of the International Space Station, and to serve in controlling launch vehicle flights using an alternative technology. The Luch is a series of geosynchronous Russian relay satellites, used to transmit live TV images, communications and other telemetry from the Soviet/Russian space station Mir, the Russian Orbital Segment of the International Space Station and other orbital spacecraft to the Earth, in a manner similar to that of the US Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. “One of the main spheres we intend to develop is our functions of mobile communications and data retransmission, including for the broadcast of launches as the most interesting events for the promotion of space exploration,” Komarov said. According to the Roscosmos chief, the Gonets company will be engaged in the development of this sphere. [emphasis mine]

Wow! A thousand people watched the launch! Isn’t that amazing!

In other words, either they didn’t make it easy for the public to find the broadcast online, or they didn’t make it public at all and the 1,000 viewers were merely government apparatchiks. It is clear from the article that they are still working to get their communication satellite network back into operation — which crumbled in the 1980s and 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union — but if they can broadcast to 1000 people they can broadcast to far more than that. Hopefully after this first effort they will broaden its access for future launches, though I wonder if that will happen. All of Russian aerospace is now government-controlled, and the natural inclination of government bureaucrats is to squelch information so that people don’t see bad things happen.

Russia’s ten-year space budget slashed again

The uncertainty of budgets: Russia has once again cut the ten-year budget for its space program, forcing its space agency Roscosmos to reconsider its ten-year plan running through 2025.

Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos will receive just 1.5 trillion rubles ($22.5 billion) in government funding over the next ten years, less than half of estimated figures cited by space officials earlier this year, a Roscosmos statement said on Monday evening. The space agency was planning on receiving around 3.4 trillion rubles as part of the Federal Space Program 2016-2025 (FSP), a decade-long planning document that lays out Russia’s goals in space and allocates funding for them.

But Russia’s economic crisis and a broad readjustment of government spending across all sectors has forced Roscosmos to redraft its 10-year proposal several times over the past year.

This is not necessarily bad news for Russia’s space program. The cuts will force them to function like a private company, lean and mean, rather than a bloated wasteful government operation. They therefore might actually be more competitive as a result.

Soyuz rocket builder proposes major upgrade

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.

Proton launches successfully

The competition heats up: Russia’s Proton successfully launched an Inmarsat commercial satellite into orbit today.

Considering the problems the Proton has had in recent years, this launch success is significant. It suggests that they are back in business.

In related news, a Russian space expert was fired from his job at a hi-tech operation outside Moscow after he publicly criticized the Putin government’s consolidation of Russia’s entire space industry into a single government-run corporation.

Vadim Lukashevich worked at the Skolkovo Innovation Center, a high-tech business park outside Moscow intended as Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley that has partnerships with Western research universities such as MIT. “As I understand it, they [fired me] for a series of interviews in which I criticize the recent decision to liquidate the Federal Space Agency and create a new state corporation called Roscosmos,” Lukashevich told The Moscow Times on Friday.

…Lukashevich, a prominent voice in the Russian space scene, told the BBC the reform would remove any industry accountability and would foster corruption — all while failing to provide Russia with a long-term direction in space.

On Wednesday, a day after the interview was published, he said someone at Skolkovo’s Space Cluster called him to say he had been fired. The caller “apologized several times, saying the decision was imposed on them from above — by a phone call from URSC in the middle of the night,” Lukashevich said

I think that Lukashevich is right, that creating a single government-run corporation will encourage corruption and in the long run will be a disaster for Russia’s space industry. We will see a rebirth of the same problems that destroyed the Soviet Union. In fact, Lukashevich’s firing is illustrative of this.

I also think that in the short term it will likely energize their space program. But only for a short period of time. After they achieve some Soviet-style stunts that appear impressive, the weight of corruption and the lack of competition will cause the industry to collapse in bankruptcy again.

Putin endorses Russian government consolidation of space industry

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday strongly endorsed the decision by the Russian government to consolidate control of that country’s entire space industry into a single, government-run corporation.

Putin said the plan to unite the federal space agency, Roscosmos, with United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) in a new corporate behemoth that will retain the Roscosmos name was “the right proposal” during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the TASS news agency reported. The union would meld the federal space agency’s strategic oversight function with the industrial might of state-owned URSC — which was itself created from the union of some of Russia’s key space firms in an effort to increase efficiency in 2013.

Shades of the cold war! Even as the U.S. space industry is shifting away from government control to private enterprise, Russia is returning to it. We shall see which model works best as the world competes to get to the stars.