Two stories today give further hints that Russia’s space effort, run under the centralized government control of its space agency Roscosmos, is struggling. Both stories involve comments by the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, during an interview yesterday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Putin government’s takeover of Russia’s entire aerospace industry.
First, Rogozin announced that they intend to continue using their Soyuz manned capsule for at least ten more years, even though they are working to develop the Oryol replacement capsule and hope to fly its first unmanned test flight by 2023.
“I am absolutely sure that the Soyuz MS will be exploitable for at least ten years. That is why, during the first years we will use both the Soyuz MS and a new spacecraft,” he said.
Though it makes sense for Russia to fly both spacecraft for a period of time, ten years seems exorbitant. It suggests that Rogozin is covering his behind in case Oryol ends up getting delayed significantly.
Based on Russia’s track record the past twenty years, it is very likely Oryol will not fly by 2023. Since the turn of this century they have been promising new spacecraft and rockets without ever delivering. They have also spent a quarter of a century building one module for ISS. It has become their mode of operations to go slow and not deliver. Rogozin must know this, and is covering his bets by announcing Soyuz that will fly for many more years.
Second, Rogozin made it a point to denigrate the U.S. manned space effort, calling it a “political project” not interested in “helping” its partners. To quote him precisely:
For the United States this is now more of a political project. With the lunar project, we are observing the departure of our American partners from the principles of cooperation and mutual support that have developed in cooperation with the ISS. They see their program not as international, but as similar to NATO. There is America, everyone else must help and pay. Honestly we are not interest in participating in such a project. [emphasis mine]
Apparently, because we will no longer be buying seats on a Soyuz (which has helped keep Roscosmos above water for the past decade), and are also requiring that Russia pay its own way in working with us in getting back to the Moon, he considers us no longer willing to following “principles of cooperation and mutual support.”
How mean of us! We should not only let them share in the glory of getting back to the Moon, we should provide them the funds to do it.
Rogozin also indicated they are now talking to China about working with them on future interplanetary exploration. The article correctly notes that these comments could be a negotiating ploy by Rogozin to get the U.S. to pry open its wallet. That might work, but Trump officials should know that it is very doubtful China will funnel any cash to Russia.
Both stories indicate the overall decline in Russia’s capabilities. They appear to need a partner to provide them financial support, even as they struggle vainly to get anything done on their own.