Yawn: Rogozin tweets threats to Musk, Musk shrugs

In yesterday’s non-news Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos which runs Russia’s entire aerospace industry, issued a threat against Elon Musk for supplying the Ukraine Starlink service in its war against the Russian invasion, and Musk responded with an almost cheerful quip.

On Sunday (May 8), Musk posted on Twitter a note that he said Rogozin, the head of Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos, had sent out to Russian media. The note claimed that equipment for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-internet system had been delivered to Ukrainian marines and “militants of the Nazi Azov battalion” by the U.S. military. “Elon Musk, thus, is involved in supplying the fascist forces in Ukraine with military communication equipment,” Rogozin wrote, according to an English translation that Musk posted. (He also tweeted out a Russian version.) “And for this, Elon, you will be held accountable like an adult — no matter how much you’ll play the fool.”

This sounds very much like a threat, as Musk acknowledged in a follow-up tweet on Sunday. “If I die under mysterious circumstances, it’s been nice knowin ya,” he wrote. Musk’s mom, Maye, didn’t appreciate that glib response, tweeting, “That’s not funny” along with two angry-face emojis. The billionaire entrepreneur responded, “Sorry! I will do my best to stay alive.” (It was Mother’s Day, after all.)

Musk’s light-hearted response only stands to reason, considering Rogozin’s loud-mouthed track record. Nothing he says really matters, so why should Musk care that much. Musk probably posted Rogozin’s comments out of amusement more than anything else..

Berger: The media should ignore Rogozin

Eric Berger today beat me to the punch with a very cogent op-ed outlining how the press is consistently being fooled by the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, by reporting what he says without really understanding any of the larger context.

It happened again this weekend. Both Bloomberg and Axios reported that Russia is quitting the International Space Station due to sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia. Each of these stories garnered considerable attention. And each of these stories was also wrong.

…Specifically, this is what Rogozin said on state television this weekend: “The decision has been taken already, we’re not obliged to talk about it publicly. I can say this only—in accordance with our obligations, we’ll inform our partners about the end of our work on the ISS with a year’s notice.”

This may sound ominous, but that is the wrong interpretation of Rogozin’s words. There is actually some positive news in there, with Rogozin saying Russia will give NASA and its other partners a full year’s notice before departing. This is more than enough time for NASA and its commercial partners, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, and Boeing, to work together to salvage the larger Western segment of the space station.

Rogozin’s most recent comments are even more positive than his comments in early March, when he threatened to break off the ISS partnership by the end of the month.

The ignorance of both the Bloomberg and Axios reports were amplified in that they were reporting nothing new, as Rogozin had essentially revealed this decision three weeks earlier.

The bottom line is that Russia is facing the death of its space program. It doesn’t have the cash to finance its own space station, and it has no one else to fly with. China says it will be glad to work with Russia on its Tiangong station, but it isn’t going to put out one dime to help pay for Russian efforts. Nor will the future American private stations.

Thus, most of what Rogozin says is bluster, not to be taken too seriously. Russia is going to stay with ISS for at least the next two years, and if it eventually decides to continue the partnership through ’30 it will be no surprise.

Space spat between Biden and Rogozin over Russian invasion of Ukraine

Yesterday saw harsh words expressed by both President Biden and the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, concerning the partnership of the two countries at ISS, with Biden imposing sanctions and noting these will specifically harm Russia’s space industry, and Rogozin responding by threatening to dump ISS on either a U.S. or European city.

In Biden’s statement, he said, “We estimate that we will cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports, and it will strike a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military. It will degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program,”

Rogozin’s response came in a series of tweets on Twitter, with his most bellicose statements as follows:

Do you want to destroy our cooperation on the ISS?

This is how you already do it by limiting exchanges between our cosmonaut and astronaut training centers. Or do you want to manage the ISS yourself? Maybe President Biden is off topic, so explain to him that the correction of the station’s orbit, its avoidance of dangerous rendezvous with space garbage, with which your talented businessmen have polluted the near-Earth orbit, is produced exclusively by the engines of the Russian Progress MS cargo ships. If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe? There is also the option of dropping a 500-ton structure to India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?

Meanwhile, it isn’t Russia’s space industry that will suffer the most from this invasion, but Ukraine’s. For example, the American company Launcher, which has had a software team in the Ukraine, has moved most of that team to Bulgaria for their safety.

As a precaution given the escalating political situation, during the last few weeks, we successfully relocated our Ukraine staff to Sofia, Bulgaria, where we opened a new Launcher Europe office. We also invited their immediate family to join them in this move and funded their relocation expenses. We continue to encourage and support five of the support staff and one engineer who decided to remain in Ukraine.

The company’s press release makes it clear that it is no longer dependent in any way with facilities in the Ukraine.

Launcher’s actions will not be the last. Expect all Western commercial efforts linked to the Ukraine to break off ties in order to protect their investments. Moreover, if Russia should recapture the Ukraine entirely, it will likely not give much support to its space industry, as Roscosmos has developed its own Russian resources in the past two decades and will likely want to support those instead.

Thus, the expected destruction of that country’s aerospace industry by Russia’s invasion proceeds.

Rogozin’s salary rockets upward

The salary of Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos which runs Russia’s entire space industry, has grown from a mere $100K when he took over in 2018 to $1.3 million in 2020.

During the most recent year for which salary data is available, 2020, Rogozin was paid $1.3 million—and this does not include perks of the job, such as four vehicles, real estate holdings, spousal pay, and possibly off-the-books income. Before his imprisonment, Russian critic Alexei Navalny released an investigation of Rogozin and the corruption at Roscosmos that delves into some of these benefits.

Rogozin has seen a stunning rise in his fortunes since coming to Roscosmos. Before his move, he earned about $100,000 per year as deputy chairman in the Russian government. In 2018, his salary jumped to $513,000, and in 2019, it went up to $639,000.

By way of comparison, NASA, which has a budget several times larger than that of Roscosmos, pays Administrator Bill Nelson an annual salary of $185,100.

Rogozin is merely doing what all high level managers in Russia do. They get a job, and while there suck as much cash from it as they can before moving on or getting fired. The gigantic and fast increase in these numbers suggest Rogozin does not expect to remain in charge that much longer.

This pattern is very similar to what happened in the Roman Empire. The Caesar in Rome would appoint governors to the various outlying provinces in Germany, France, England, and the Middle East, who would then skim off for themselves as much cash from tax revenues as they could get away with, then retire back to Rome to live the good life. Meanwhile, governance in those provinces would suffer, to the point that eventually the empire fell.

Rogozin appears to be doing the same in Roscosmos, which suggests not much will come from its many projects to come up with new rockets, spacecraft, and space stations in the coming years.

Russia announces it is shifting its manned operations on ISS to yearlong missions

According to Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, Russia is changing the standard length of a crew stay at ISS from six months to a full year, beginning with the flight in which the crew will help film a commercial movie on ISS in October.

Then-Head of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center Pavel Vlasov earlier said that two members of the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft, Pyotr Dubrov and Mark Vande Hei, would stay in orbit longer than six months to help shoot a film Vyzov (Challenge). He also said that crew commander Oleg Novitsky would return to Earth in October aboard the Soyuz MS-18’s descend capsule together with the participants of the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft’s flight (actress Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko who would be engaged in the film). Two crewmembers, cosmonaut Dubrov and NASA astronaut Vande Hei, would remain in orbit and return to Earth aboard the Soyuz MS-19 spaceship, he said.

Gaining experience at missions a year or longer, something only the Russians have accomplished, makes sense if one plans to send astronauts to Mars. I suspect however there is a second more practical reason for this change: It will free up seats on Soyuz to sell for commercial tourist flights. Russia clearly wants to compete successfully with the new American commercial manned flights that SpaceX and Axiom will be flying. This change gives them that opportunity.

Rogozin himself likely has personal financial motives. He is a co-producer on that movie, and likely will also pocket personally some of the profits from future tourist flights.

Russian astronaut fired for opposing filming of movie on ISS

Krikalev on the shuttle to ISS flight in 1998
Sergei Krikalev on the first ISS assembly flight
by the space shuttle Endeavour in 1998.

According to one new story today, Russian astronaut, Sergei Krikalev, 62, was fired from his position in senior management within Roscosmos for opposing its decision to film for profit the first feature film on ISS.

Krikalev did not say why he was against the film but his stance was backed by former colleagues who said that taking a passenger would delay a flight for a cosmonaut. Roscosmos denied that Krikalev had been fired.

Krikalev is one of Russia’s most celebrated astronauts. He was the first person to fly in space who was born after Sputnik, was the first Russian to fly on the space shuttle, and was the first Russian (along with an American) to enter ISS’s first module soon after launch. Overall he has spent more than 800 days in space.

He also became the last Soviet citizen, stranded on Mir when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. When he launched, he was a citizen of the U.S.S.R. When he finally returned, that country didn’t exist, and he was now a citizen of Russia.

I interviewed him extensively for my book, Leaving Earth, because he was fluent in English due to his flights on the shuttle. What I learned was that Krikalev was then and probably still is an ardent communist. On that Mir flight he refused to be filmed in a commercial for Coca-Cola, arranged by Roscosmos to make some money. There was no way he would allow himself to be recorded in such a crass for-profit manner. Thus, I am not surprised he now opposes using Russian space facilities for a commercial movie, for profit.

I also found him to be a very thoughtful and analytical man, which also probably explains his opposition to this quickly arranged commercial flight. The film company is partly owned by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, so there probably is some payoffs and corruption involved. It is also probably interfering with the Russian side of operations, as the story says Krikalev claims. These factors would cause Krikalev to speak his mind and argue against the flight, which likely angered Rogozin, who is apparently pocketing some cash from the film.

I suspect Krikalev is not fired, but has merely been sent to the doghouse for a short while. Roscosmos (and Rogozin) can’t afford the bad publicity of letting him go. It also needs his expertise in their operations.

Rogozin takes over Roscosmos

Former Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has now officially been named the head of Roscosmos.

It appears Rogozin will continue the Putin government’s policy of consolidating the entire aerospace industry into Roscosmos.

Along with the new appointment, the Russian press reported on Rogozin’s plans to initiate yet another reorganization of Roskosmos to absorb Tactical Rocket Armaments company, specialized in battlefield missiles, and, possibly, the Almaz-Antei enterprise, developing anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems.

This policy also suggests that Russia’s continuing fade as a major player in the international launch market will continue. They will focus on internal needs, but will no longer be able or willing to compete for business outside of Russia. Without any internal competition, and with corruption rife within these industries, Roscosmos under Rogozin will stumble along issuing press releases about future great projects, few of which will really happen, while it acts instead as a pork barrel jobs program for friends of Putin.

Russia throws in the towel

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who Putin had placed in charge of Russia’s space effort, today said in a television interview that it makes no sense for them to try to compete with SpaceX in the launch market.

“The share of launch vehicles is as small as 4% percent of the overall market of space services. The 4% stake isn’t worth the effort to try to elbow Musk and China aside,” Rogozin said in an interview on the RBC-TV channel on Tuesday.

He estimates the real market of space services at approximately $350 billion, with the creation of payloads, and not the launch of these payloads in space, accounting for the bulk of the sum. “Payloads manufacturing is where good money can be made,” he said.

Translation: We can’t figure out how to cut our costs and build better and cheaper rockets without eliminating many government jobs, so we have decided not to try. And we are going to make believe this failure is a good decision.

In response to the competitive threat from SpaceX, Putin’s government decided to consolidate their entire space industry into a single government corporation, run by their space agency Roscosmos. This reorganization however has failed entirely. Rather than encourage innovation and a lowering of costs, it served to make Russia’s entire aerospace industry a servant of politicians, who are more interested in distributing pork than building an efficient and competitive business.

Rogozin is thus essentially admitting here that Russia has lost its international commercial space business, and is therefore rationalizing that loss by claiming they never really wanted it in the first place.

This story confirms that Russia will be launching far fewer rockets in the coming years. Their dominance as one of the world’s launch leaders is now fading.

Rogozin pins Proton failure on “moral degeneration”

In a speech before the State Duma, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin blamed the “moral degeneration” of the top leaders of their county’s aerospace industry for Saturday’s Proton launch failure.

“With such degeneration in the leadership of the enterprises, there’s no surprise at such a high degree of accidents,” said Rogozin who said that “space bosses have long gone into their own space.” … The vice premier expressed those that the force of “legal gravitation will lead them [those responsible for the failure of the Progress and the Proton] to where they should be,” RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.

In other words, expect more arrests and prosecutions. Meanwhile, there is little evidence that Rogozin or Putin are doing anything to make their space industry more competitive and thus capable of generating the profits necessary to keep it afloat.

Russia’s deputy prime minister today blasted the Russian space agency and one space contractor for the scandals and public backbiting involving both.

Soap opera: Russia’s deputy prime minister today blasted Vladimir Popovkin, the head the Russian space agency, and one space contractor for the scandals and public backbiting involving both.

The [contractor’s] accusations apparently come as a response to Popovkin’s comments on Monday. The official accused “space industry contractors” of disseminating false rumors about him because they were dissatisfied with his attempt to reform the industry. Popovkin was hospitalized earlier this month because of exhaustion caused by a hectic schedule and frequent jet lags, according to official statements. Some media reported it was due to injuries sustained in a brawl.