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.