High Russian officials lambast Roscosmos and its head


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At a meeting earlier this week several high Russian officials sharply criticized both Roscosmos and its head, Dmitry Rogozin, for repeatedly predicting grand future successes even as the state of the Russian space program worsens.

On Wednesday, the prime minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, expressed his displeasure with the situation. During a meeting in Moscow with senior Roscosmos officials, Medvedev made sharply critical remarks that were reported by several Russian news organizations, including Gazeta.RU and RIA Novosti. (Translations were provided to Ars by Robinson Mitchell).

“This is a blunt and direct assertion: We need to quit projecting future plans, stop talking about where our missions will land in 2030, get to work, talk less, and do more,” Medvedev said. “We need to be more active in commercializing our space industry and increase Russia’s international market share of commercial launches.” [emphasis mine]

Medvedev as well as Russia’s deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov were blunt in noting that Roscosmos has done a bad job of competing in the commercial launch market, even as it made empty “grandiose projections” of its future deep space exploration plans.

Whether these criticisms will have any significant effect remains to be seen. Russia has structured its entire space industry into a single government-run corporation. Within Russia there is no competition, and everything is run from the top down. Such a set-up discourages innovation and risk-taking, the very things Russia needs for it to successfully compete on the world stage.

Imagine you are a young Russian guy with a clever idea for building smallsats in your basement. Or you are a young rocket engineer who has an idea about building rockets better. In Russian neither of these guys would be free to do anything, as all space projects must be supervised by Roscosmos. Roscosmos however is a government bureaucracy, and such bureaucracies are routinely loath to take risks and give power and opportunity to new people outside its power structure. Your project would either be squashed, or co-oped by the powers-in-charge so that it would not fly, as intended.

We see this in NASA today, with its decades-long resistance to new space companies like SpaceX. Fortunately, the U.S. aerospace industry has not been consolidated into a single government entity, run by NASA. Nor can it be, at least for now. The Constitution prevents government from doing this, while the political system allows for competition, even among politicians. The result has been that political appointees in both the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations have over the past dozen years pushed the idea of reducing NASA’s control over space, and have thus made possible the arrival of a viable commercial and very competitive space industry.

In Russia, under Putin, they did exactly the opposite in 2015, ending competition and consolidating their industry under full government control. The results since have not been pretty. In 2015 Russia led the world in launches with 34. In 2018 they only launched fifteen times, the lowest total for that country since the 1960s.

Nor do I expect this trend to change in the near future, notwithstanding the blunt talk above by Russia’s leaders. At least for the next decade, I expect Russia to be a very minor player in space.

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4 comments

  • wodun

    In Russian neither of these guys would be free to do anything, as all space projects must be supervised by Roscosmos. Roscosmos however is a government bureaucracy, and such bureaucracies are routinely loath to take risks and give power and opportunity to new people outside its power structure. Your project would either be squashed, or co-oped by the powers-in-charge so that it would not fly, as intended.

    This is a great example of how medicare for all or any other form of single customer healthcare schemes would play out. Other countries can manage because the USA is such a powerhouse of creation but if we adopt a system like this, we wont be the only ones who suffer, the entire world will.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “The result has been that political appointees in both the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations have over the past dozen years pushed the idea of reducing NASA’s control over space, and have thus made possible the arrival of a viable commercial and very competitive space industry.

    When the U.S. tried to consolidate all U.S. launches to the Space Shuttle, back in the 1980s, putting NASA in complete control over the launch industry, the U.S. launch industry was almost obliterated. The damage to the U.S. industry allowed Ariane to make great gains in commercial launches. Thus, the U.S. launch industry had to rely heavily on government payloads as it slowly recovered from the mistake of that government takeover.

    Lord only knows how the Russians will manage to recover from the mistake of 2015. Assuming it does.

    It is hard to get a read on what is going on, over there, because the article gives two competing opinions from the two top officials in Russian government. From the article:

    “This is a blunt and direct assertion: We need to quit projecting future plans, stop talking about where our missions will land in 2030, get to work, talk less, and do more,” [Prime Minister] Medvedev said. “We need to be more active in commercializing our space industry and increase Russia’s international market share of commercial launches.”

    and:

    “We must also contemplate a lunar landing and the exploration of deep space, but all of these goals must be part of an overarching strategy, not just populism and grandiose projections,” [Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov] said. “The space industry today is fairly commercially successful in the world, and we must approach issues of space exploration and providing all space services with a certain amount of practicality.”

    Is Russia’s space industry today fairly commercially successful in the world or not? Should they stop talking about where their missions will land in 2030 or contemplate a lunar landing and the exploration of deep space for the future, such as 2030?

    Add to that the recent corruption and continuing mismanagement of its space program.
    https://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/contract-cancelled-for-vostochny-launchpad-for-angara/

    The Russian space industry should not be sitting around on their sorry butts filling out request forms for equipment they should already have.

    It looks like Russia has quite a cluster bleep on its hands.

    From the movie “Heartbreak Ridge”
    Colonel Meyers: What’s your assessment of this exercise?

    Highway: It’s a cluster [bleep].

    Colonel Meyers: Say again?

    Highway: Marines are fighting men, sir. They shouldn’t be sitting around on their sorry asses filling out request forms for equipment they should already have.

    Colonel Meyers: Interesting observation. Carry on, Major.

  • Dick Eagleson

    The established Russian rockets are all expendable and apparently cannot be built cheaply enough to be even remotely competitive in the current, never mind future, launch market. Due to the never-ending manufacturing miscues and quality control derelictions afflicting Russian space industry, these rockets are also far less reliable than those of their Western competitors. For these reasons, Russia has been effectively removed as a player in the international launch market. A few more missions to clear their extant backlog and ILS might as well turn out the lights, pull down the shades and lock the door.

    Russia’s new rockets also have problems, are still expendable, cost even more to make than their notional predecessors, have much less extant launch infrastructure and efforts to expand said infrastructure have been repeatedly hamstrung by endemic Russian corruption and quality lapses.

    I think the Russian manned space program will effectively end whenever the ISS is closed down. I don’t think Russia will ever loft any of the putative ISS modules they’ve been screwing up and rebuilding repeatedly these last 20 years. I don’t think they will separate their ISS modules and establish a subset space station when ISS is decommissioned. I don’t think their Soyuz-successor manned vehicle will ever fly. I don’t think Russians will ever travel beyond LEO or stand on the Moon unless they are able to hitch rides with the Chinese. I regard the probability of that as small. By the middle of the coming decade, Russia will be hard pressed just to make enough launches – using mostly their old rockets and infrastructure – to keep their military and civilian space asset base minimally functional. No more manned space stuff. No more unmanned deep space missions of any kind.

  • Royal Hiney

    I wonder if the Chinese will try to cross Antarctica?

    They might send something unmanned and never to return but I doubt they will send any people. I suspect they know the truth about the Earth. After all, they are zhong guo, the middle kingdom, in the middle of the Earth.

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