Two more stories this week provide additional evidence that Roscosmos, the new Russian government-run space corporation that controls Russia’s entire space industry, intends to eliminate its dependence on any foreign contributions, even if that contribution comes from the former Soviet province of Ukraine.
In the first story, Roscosmos ends the commercial use of the Dnepr anti-ballistic missile, built originally in the Ukraine. In the second story Roscosmos makes it very clear that it will focus on using its Russia-made Angara rocket rather than depend on the Ukrainian Zenit, even though Zenit is what the Roscosmos-owned Sea Launch platform was designed to use and Angara is far from operational.
The main result of these decisions will be the bankrupt many Ukrainian space companies. Whether it will bring more business to Angara, however, remains to be seen. Angara has only had one orbital launch, and has hardly tested its many different configurations. At this stage it is highly unlikely that the commercial customers who have depended on Dnepr and Zenit will flock to it, especially since they now have other competitive options available in the west.
The competition heats up? The Dnepr rocket launch of 37 satellites yesterday also included the launch of the first private Russian satellite.
TabletSat-Aurura owned by the company SPUTNIX weighs 26.2 kg and is made to operate for one year. It is intended for remote Earth sensing in the interests of a private company. The satellite was made using Russian technologies and a minimum of foreign components. Its cost is about one million US dollars.
Igor Komarov, the head of the United Rocket and Space Corporation, said “the launch of Aurora, the first Russian private satellite, is a successful example of public-private partnership in the field of space exploration as private companies clearly cannot fulfill their strategic tasks without the state. ,,, I am confident that cooperation between the state and private aerospace agencies in designing and manufacturing high-tech craft will become an important stimulus for further development of Russian competitive technologies.”
SPUTNIX Director-General Andrei Potapov said his company’s plans included “creating a cluster of small spacecraft and craft for super high-definition aerial video surveying and imaging with a resolution of down to one meter per pixel”. [emphasis mine]
Why do I have doubts about this Russian achievement? The reasons are twofold.
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A Russian Dnepr rocket today successfully placed in orbit the largest number of satellites, 37, ever launched on a single rocket.
This launch once again illustrates the increasing capabilities of tiny satellites. More and more, it is becoming possible to do a lot more in orbit with a lot less.
The competition heats up: In a launch today a Russian Dnepr rocket sent 32 satellites into orbit, breaking the record of 29 set less than a week ago by a Minotaur rocket.
This is the future. Satellites are going to get smaller, and thus cheaper to launch.
Russia is considering ending its joint commercial program with the Ukraine and Kazakhstan to launch satellites using its Dnepr rocket.
There are several reasons this decision might happen. One, the Russian government under Putin might now be shifting away from capitalism after two decades of financial success. And if so, that will be to the United States’ advantage. Two, they might have decided that the Dnepr system can’t compete on the market, and it is wiser not to throw good money after bad.
Either way, the abandonment of Dnepr will be bad for Kazakhstan and the Ukraine, and suggests that when the Russians finally get their Vostochny spaceport operational, on their own soil, they will abandon Baikonur in Kazakhstan forever.