Russia moves to reduce launch costs with new rocket


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The head of Roscosmos said today that they are pushing to accelerate the development of a new rocket, dubbed Phoenix, that will reduce launch costs by 20%, lowering the launch price per launch to $55 million.

I have been reading stories like this, about a new wonderful Russian rocket or spacecraft, for decades. First there was Clipper. Then there was Angara, repeatedly. Recently they have been talking up a new manned capsule and cargo ship. Along the way were a number of other forgotten proposals that would revolutionize space travel. None of these proposals however have ever seen the light of day, though Angara has completed two test flights.

In the past, Russia was not under any competitive pressure. They could undercut the launch price of every other rocket company in the world, without doing anything. Now, they face stiff competition that is only going to get stiffer. They need to produce, or they will be out of the game entirely.

The big question is whether they can, as a nationalized space industry run by a government that is rampant with corruption.

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4 comments

  • wayne

    I’ll toss this in here–

    The NASA Channel is covering the SpaceX launch today. Pre-Game begins at 5:15 EST.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Short answer to the big question – No.

  • LocalFluff

    Russia is cheap because of their low price level. This whole thing with purchasing parity is weird. In Russia’s case big discrepancies are possible because of their strange economy. They export raw materials and advanced weapons systems, and little in between (Russian cars is a joke and has anyone ever bought Russian clothes or furniture?). With oil and weapons being the most governmentally controlled sectors in the world, Russia doesn’t seem to need to care much about the logic of any free markets. Their president is their salesman. Not a myriad of entrepreneurs on a market, but his personal handshakes with arms customers and oil competitors is Russia’s main interface with foreign economies and currencies. Therefor prices are not possible to translate in any useful way.

    The same is a warning for North Korea’s economy. One can’t quite judge the abilities of so called planned economies (an ironic term) by using economic theory that assumes there’s a market. Demand, supply, incentives, accounting are all very different. Even in the 1970 North Korea had the same GDP per capita as South Korea. Now SK has 20 times higher GDP/capita. This is probably true for the living standard of ordinary people, but it might still mean there’s arms industrial capabilities way out of proportion to that figure, capital that is not marked to market, that lacks valuation.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “Demand, supply, incentives, accounting are all very different.

    A good observation. The way the Soviets, and now the Russians, have handled their accounting, they really do not know the actual cost of any given rocket launch. Without this knowledge, they cannot set a price for a payload or an astronaut that assures that they make money on the deal; they merely assume that they have done so.

    Economics is a study of the incentives that influence behaviors such as sales and purchases or the lack thereof. When a centrally controlled economy has different incentives than a free market, then the knowledge of free markets does not apply very well. Russia is offering, in a worldwide free market, satellite launches on various rockets and astronaut seats on Soyuz at prices intended to provide incentives to buy those services, but the central controllers use coercion during the production of those services.

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