Tag Archives: Roscosmos

NASA & Roscosmos heads to meet

After their teleconference to discuss the status of Russia’s investigation into the airleak on ISS, the heads of NASA and Roscosmos agreed to their first face-to-face meeting on October 10 at the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan.

Part of the reason for the teleconference and this announcement to try to stem the wild rumors about the leak, including the accusation that it was done by an American astronaut.

I also expect them to discuss how they can jointly lobby the American Congress to fund the Gateway boondoggle, formerly (F)LOP-G.

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More aerospace problems in Russia

Two stories out of Russia today suggest that the serious quality control problems plaguing its aerospace industry have not been brought under control.

According to the second article the launch delay is because a Russian satellite manufacturer is behind schedule and might not deliver needed parts for the satellite’s assembly in time. I suspect the delay might also be related to the first article, as this satellite will launch on the brand new launchpad where they have discovered the cavities below ground.

That these cavities were not pinpointed during construction is very troublesome. One of the reasons SpaceX’s Boca Chica launchsite in Texas is taking as long as it is getting built is that the company had to make sure the soft beach property was structurally sound for rocket launches. That the Russians missed this speaks poorly again of their quality control.

Delays are common in the rocket industry, but in the context of Russia’s other space-related problems, the delay suggests a wider problem.

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Russia begins construction of Angara launchpad at Vostochny

Russia has begun the construction of the first Angara launchpad at their new Vostochny spaceport.

According to earlier reports, the Angara launch pad is to be completed by December 31, 2022. Construction costs are estimated at nearly 39 billion rubles ($565 million).

Somehow it seems to me that this construction is too expensive and is taking too long. A launchpad is essentially a specialized building on the surface. I don’t see why it should be so difficult or expensive to do.

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Roscosmos re-inspecting all Progress/Soyuz capsules

The Russians are going to give all Progress and Soyuz capsules being prepared for launch a new inspection following the discovery that the airleak on the Soyuz docked with ISS had been caused by a technician on the ground prior to launch and covered up.

The consequences to Russia’s space industry because of this incident are going to be difficult to measure. It surely signals that they have still not got a handle on their quality control problems. In fact, it provides further proof that the technical work coming out of Russia is shoddy, sloppy, and filled with many forms of corruption, all circumstances that should give pause to anyone thinking of flying a product or themselves on a Russian-made product.

Worse, the centralized government-run space industry created by Putin is exactly the wrong thing for fixing these problems. Russia does not have a competitive and free aerospace industry. Everything is run by the government and based on the ability to wield political power rather the ability to demonstrate skill and quality in how you do your job.

With only five launches expected in 2019, Russia’s space program is sinking to the level of a third world country. This airleak disaster will only help it sink further.

One last note: I predicted this kind of disaster back in 2013, when the consolidation of Russia’s aerospace industry was announced by the Putin government. My prediction was not very difficult, nor especially brilliant, since disasters like this always occur from government-run top-down socialist/communist systems. One only has to be patient. It is only a matter of time before the system fails, and fails badly.

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Three Russian space officials arrested for fraud

Russian investigators have arrested three officials from RKK Energia, the division in Roscosmos that builds and operates the Russian manned program, accusing them of fraud.

No further details were provided. This could indicate real fraud. It could also be the Russian way of cleaning house so new more politically favored players can be moved into position.

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Roscosmos in the news!

Three news stories from Russia, two from today and one from last week, provide us a flavor of the kind of space stories that come out of Russia almost daily, either making big promises of future great achievements, or making blustery excuses for the failure of those big promises to come true.

In the first the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, rationalizes the failure of Russia to compete successfully with SpaceX.
» Read more

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Russian scientist accused of treason fed data to NATO

According to his lawyer the Roscosmos scientists who was arrested two weeks ago has been accused of providing classified data to one of NATO’s member states.

The lawyer did not reveal the specific nation involved. Other reports have suggested the leaked material involved Russia’s hypersonic engine research.

I still can’t help wondering what prompted the arrest, and if it is linked somehow with leaks coming out of the FBI and the Department of Justice in connection with Robert Mueller’s never-ending Russian collusion investigation.

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Treason investigation opened against Roscosmos research unit

The Russian government has arrested at least one person and opened a treason investigation against a specific Roscosmos research unit that has been focused on hypersonic technology.

Member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission Yevgeny Yenikeyev earlier told TASS that a Moscow court had authorized the arrest of TsNIImash’s 74-year-old staffer Viktor Kudryavtsev accused of high treason. He didn’t specify, however, which court had sanctioned the staffer’s arrest. Ustimenko confirmed to TASS that the scientist had been taken into custody but offered no details. TsNIImash declined to comment on the information on the arrest.

The Russian business daily Kommersant earlier reported that an investigative team from the Federal Security Service (FSB) had searched the officers of TsNIImash staffers, as well as the office of Director of the Roscosmos Research and Analytical Center Dmitry Paison. According to the paper, investigative measures were being carried out as part of criminal proceedings instituted on charges of high treason under Russia’s Criminal Code, and about 10 employees working in the space industry were under investigation for collaborating with Western intelligence services.

The FSB determined that Western intelligence agencies had found out about the results of the Russian space industry’s ‘top secret’ work on hypersonic technologies, the paper reported.

I cannot help wondering if the numerous leaks by anti-Trump ideologues in the FBI, the Department of Justice, and Congress, all related to their futile effort to pin Russian collusion charges against Trump, have ended up exposing these internal sources of information in Russia.

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The dying Russian space program

Three articles today illustrate starkly the sad state of the Russian space program.

The first story describes the serious problems for Russia’s first lunar probe in decades.

Its launch was originally scheduled for 2016 but was postponed to 2019 mainly because of lack of funding. Roscosmos allocated a budget of 4.5 billion rubles to NPO Lavochkin, Luna-Glob’s builder, as recently as October 2016.

Since then, almost everything has gone according to the plan, except with a crucial instrument called BIB, the probe’s inertial measurement unit. Provided by the Russian company NPO IT – located in the city of Korolyov, not far from ISS Mission Control – the BIB should provide the onboard computer with the necessary information to ensure guidance on the path from the Earth to the Moon.

However, BIB testing at NPO IT showed unexpected results, clearly indicating it was not working properly. The designers of this system noted it won’t be ready for the 2019 launch window, which resulted in NPO Lavochkin trying to replace it with a European equivalent called ASTRIX, designed by Airbus Defence & Space.

However, sanctions against Russia – from the European Commission in the fallout of the Ukrainian crisis – strictly forbid such a deal.

A different Russian instrument could replace BIB, but it won’t be ready in time, further delaying the mission to 2021 when many of its other instruments will be past their own due dates.

The second story describes the end of Russia’s Proton rocket, first built in the mid-1960s and since the 1990s has been its commercial workhorse. Faced with numerous failures and an inability to compete with SpaceX, it has lost its market share, and will now be replaced by Russia’s new Angara rocket. The problem is that Angara itself is not ready, and will likely not be operational until 2021, at the earliest.

The third article describes some of the reasons why Angara will take so long to be operational. Vostochny, Russia’s new spaceport, doesn’t have the necessary facilities, and it appears there is a disagreement within the Russian aerospace community about how fast those facilities can be built, or even if all are needed immediately. The top management in Roscosmos seems reluctant to switch all operations from Baikonur, probably for political reasons, while the expert quoted by the article says they should do it fast.

Either way, the entire Russian space program seems mired in bad technology, overpriced products, and poor and confused management. They have lost most of their commercial international customers, are about to lose NASA as well when Dragon and Starliner begin flying American astronauts, and do not have the resources to replace this lost income. Further, the top-down centralized management by the government of the entire aerospace industry has worsened these problems by stifling competition and innovation.

Russia might recover eventually, but for the next decade expect them to play a very minor role in space.

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Russia launches new crew to ISS

Russia’s Soyuz rocket this morning successfully launched a new crew to ISS.

They are using the traditional two-day rendezvous route to ISS this time.

The present leaders in the 2018 launch race:

17 China
11 SpaceX
6 Russia
5 ULA

Bonus: This launch Roscosmos added an on-board camera with views of stage separations. Video below the fold:
» Read more

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More budget cuts expected for Roscosmos

According to one story in the Russian press today, the Russian space industry, run by Roscosmos, is expected to experience more budget cuts due to a shortage of funds.

The Russian federal space program might face cuts as the Roscosmos state corporation is likely to suffer funding shortages amounting to 150 billion rubles (almost $2.4 billion) in the next three years, a source in the industry told Sputnik.

“The shortages of budgetary funds planned for allocation to Roscosmos from the previous parameters for the next three years is about 150 billion rubles … the lack of funds has already become a reason of delays in the development of interplanetary projects, slowing down construction of the second stage of the Vostochny Cosmodrome and the development of new rocket and space equipment,” the source said.

The shortfall almost certainly comes from a lack of international launch customers, most of whom have shifted their business to SpaceX because of the quality control concerns in the Russian aerospace industry. Whether Russia can regain any of this business in the coming years will depend wholly on whether they can demonstrate some reliability in their launch cadence, something they have failed to do for the past five years.

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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.

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Rogozin to take over Roscosmos?

I wonder if he used a trampoline: Less than a week after Putin dumped Dmitry Rogozin from his cabinet, a story in the Russian press suggests he has been offered the job as head of Roscosmos.

Under the government-run centralized Russian system, it would not surprise me if Rogozin gets this job. With the government, no one ever gets fired, they merely get shuffled about from one job to another. Results are irrelevant.

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Putin dumps Rogozin

In a reshuffle of cabinet positions, Putin has replaced Dmitri Rogozin, putting a new man in charge of the Russian defense and space industry.

The new guy, Yuri Borisov, appears to have the title of Vice Prime Minister. I suspect Putin had grown tired of the continuing corruption and loss of market share under Rogozin’s watch during the past decade. I also suspect that Borisov will have little ability to change things. The problem isn’t the person in charge. The problem is Russia’s centralized top-down method of operations. It discourages competition and cost control, while providing no incentives for innovation and quality control.

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Sea Launch will assemble rockets in U.S.

Capitalism in space: S7, the Russian company that now owns Sea Launch, announced today that it plans to assemble its rockets in United States.

This means the dock for the floating launch platform will remain in California. The article also indicates that S7 will continue to use Ukrainian Zenit rockets, which the platform was designed for, despite the desire of the Russian government to cut off all dependence on Ukrainian technology. There is also this tidbit:

The S7 company, which is about to resume the Sea Launch program, has enough clients, S7 Group co-owner and chair of the board of directors Natalia Filyova told the press. “We have [launch] orders, there is a long line [of clients], and we offer a good price. We are expecting revenue, but this will not happen right away. We will be investing heavily but we realize that we will make money,” Filyova said.

No details of the clients or the launch schedule were announced, however, so I remain skeptical. Meanwhile, Roscosmos announced today that it is negotiating with Boeing for future space tourism flights. This second story is directly related to Sea Launch, but you would only know this if you read Behind the Black. To pay off Boeing, which used to be a half partner in Sea Launch and was owed $320 million by the Russians, Roscosmos gave Boeing an unspecified number of seats on future Soyuz capsules to sell to others. Two of those seats were sold to NASA.

These new negotiations probably are an effort to arrange further sales for Boeing to help it get its money back. Boeing’s lawsuit for that money has placed a lien on the Sea Launch platform, and until its concerns are satisfied, S7 really can’t begin operations.

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Russia moves to reduce launch costs with new rocket

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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Dispute in Russia over Progress failure investigation

The Russian mission control has publicly disavowed a report that cited mission control as saying that the failure of the Soyuz/Progress launch last week was due to the premature shutdown of the Soyuz rocket’s third stage.

First the source:

A source in the space and rocket industry told TASS that the emergency shutdown of the engines occurred after 382 seconds and at the same time the spacecraft’s separation occurred. After that, the flight control system started operating in automatic flight mode and began deploying antennas and solar batteries. However, the spacecraft failed to reach orbit and started falling and ended up being destroyed in the atmosphere.

Next the disavowal:

”Any version which are now being voiced by the media have nothing to do with reality, including the incorrect cyclogram data. The results of the commission’s work will be announced no earlier than December 20,” a spokesperson told RIA Novosti.

I must admit that the source’s suggested cause for the failure, that the rocket engine shut prematurely and the spacecraft then simply separated and began its deployment before it had reached orbital velocity and thus fell back to Earth, sounds good at first glance. However, this explanation does not explain why all communications with the spacecraft suddenly ceased.

Either way, it does appear that there is an effort within Roscosmos to spin the events in the press, prior to the completion of the investigation. This in itself is not a good sign, as it suggests that there are people there who are trying to cover their asses rather than honestly trying to find out the cause of the failure.

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Another Russian Roscosmos official arrested

Russian authorities have arrested the chief operating officer from a Roscosmos aircraft division that apparently builds the MiG airplane.

Evdokimov faces up to 10 years of imprisonment under large scale fraud charges if found guilty. The investigation has found that Evdokimov has committed fraud, stealing more than $3 million from the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG.

…Earlier, the investigators arrested Alexei Ozerov, a former CEO of MiG subsidiary, and deputy CEO of another Russian aircraft manufacturer Tupolev Yegor Noskov in connection with this case. The detainees are suspected of having illegally acquired a development site in northeastern Moscow that was later resold and then sublet to the subsidiaries of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) among other clients.

I am increasingly surprised the Russians have been able to build anything that works. Their management teams generally appear more interested in robbing the company than making sure the company does what it is hired to do.

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Manned Soyuz launch delayed until November

Roscosmos today confirmed that the short circuit discovered during prelaunch tests will delay the launch of a manned Soyuz to ISS until November.

Though they still have not described the problem in any detail, this article gives some insight:

According to industry sources, the delay was caused by a short circuit, which took place during roll-on of the payload fairing, which protects the spacecraft during its ascent through the atmosphere. The problem was not detected until the vehicle had been rotated back to a vertical position and was being prepared for the second fit check at Site 254 in Baikonur. The situation was complicated by the fact that engineers could not immediately identify the location of the short circuit in the fully assembled spacecraft. Preliminary estimates indicated that such an issue inside the descent module, SA, could require several weeks to fix, however if the problem was in the instrument module, PAO, it could take several months to resolve.

In worst case scenario, mission officials might decide to replace the Soyuz vehicle No. 732, which was affected by the problem, with Vehicle No. 733 originally intended for the Soyuz MS-03 mission. According to the official Russian media, the launch of the Soyuz MS-02 might be postponed until at least the beginning of October.

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More budget cuts to Russia’s space program

The head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, revealed today that there will be significant additional cuts to the country’s space program in the coming months.

These cuts come on top of the almost one-third cuts imposed from the time the budget for the ten-year plan was first proposed in 2015 and its adoption early this year.

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ExoMars successfully completes long mid-course burn

ExoMars 2016, the European/Russia orbiter/lander mission on its way to Mars, successfully completed a 52 minute mid-course engine burn today in preparation for its October 19th arrival at Mars.

Officially known as the deep-space maneuver, DSM, it was the longest engine burn for the ExoMars-2016 mission before the Mars orbit insertion on October 19, 2016. As a result of the July 28 orbit correction, the spacecraft will need less propellant during its maneuvers in the vicinity of the planet and the Schiaparelli lander will experience slightly less thermal loads during its planned entry into the Martian atmosphere.

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Russia negotiating with Australian investors to buy SeaLaunch

The competition heats up: Roscosmos revealed today that Russia is negotiating with investors in Australia to buy SeaLaunch.

I’m not sure how seriously we can take this announcement. The sale still has a lot of problems for any investors. Boeing is owed a lot of money by the SeaLaunch partners, specifically Russia, and the SeaLaunch floating launchpad is docked in the U.S. where they can hold it as collateral

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Russia and Europe agree to delay next ExoMars mission

After looking at their schedules the Russians and Europeans have agreed that they cannot meet the schedule to launch the second ExoMars mission by the next launch window in 2018, and have agreed to delay the mission until 2020.

This really isn’t a surprise, since Russia was a late replacement of the U.S. when the Obama administration backed out of the project suddenly. They need time to prepare.

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Russian assets in France seized

Russia’s refusal to pay damages in a court case has forced France to seize $700 million owed to Russia’s aerospace industry.

In total, France has seized Russian assets worth $1 billion following the Kremlin’s refusal to pay damages to former Yukos shareholders.

In July 2014, The Hague international arbitration court ruled that Russia must pay $50 billion for expropriating the assets of Yukos. The seized assets include $400 million owed by French-based satellite provider Eutelsat to the Russian Satellite Communications company and $300 million owned by French space launch provider Arianespace to Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, the magazine reported, citing the Shearman & Sterling legal firm which represents the Yukos shareholders.

This story is similar to the Sea Launch court suit by Boeing, whom the Russians owe $300 million. In that case Boeing has moved to block Russia from selling Sea Launch.

Both stories suggest that the Russians are in big financial trouble, partly caused by a lack of understanding of capitalism. In both cases, they formed partnerships with western businesses and failed to realize that those partnerships placed financial obligations upon them. From its Soviet days Russia probably thought they could ignore those obligations if it became inconvenient, and they are now discovering that this is not really possible if they wish to sell their goods to the rest of the world.

I expect Russia’s space industry to increasingly become isolated from the rest of the world market, partly because of these events.

In related news, Roscosmos has revealed that after the initial launch at Vostochny in April, the second launch will not occur until 2017. This indicates that the first launch is merely a face-saving effort to hide the fact that construction is really more than a year behind schedule, not three months.

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Russia denies that Proton upper stage failed after launching ExoMars

At a press conference today the head of Roscosmos today countered claims that some failure had occurred after ExoMars was placed on its course to Mars.

Briefing reporters in Moscow, Igor A. Komarov reiterated statements made by Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow, saying the Breeze-M upper stage separated ExoMars without incident and then proceeded with the standard passivation and collision-avoidance maneuvers.

Komarov said he had seen photos taken from a Brazilian ground telescope that appeared to show small objects in the vicinity of the Breeze-M stage and ExoMars. “I do have these pictures, provided by the Brazilian observatory, showing the ExoMars spacecraft surrounded by some dimly illuminated objects reportedly related to the upper stage,” Komarov said.

“Telemetry and other objectively verifiable data available to us, covering the entire time from the separation and the contamination and collision avoidance maneuvers to the passivation of the upper stage, show that all these steps have been performed successfully, without any anomalies,” Komarov said. “There is absolutely no indication of an upper-stage explosion or breakup.”

The uncertainty will only be settled in the next few weeks, when engineers activate all of ExoMars instruments. Should they all be working as expected, then it will likely be that nothing had happened to the Briz-M upper stage, as Roscosmos claims. If not, then Russia has a problem, since it depends on that stage for future Proton commercial launches and will not know what went wrong here.

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Russia finally approves 10-year space plan

The announcement yesterday that Russia is trimming its space budget by 30% was actually part of the final approval of their ten-year space plan, under discussion and planning for the past two years.

Interestingly, the 30% cut was only the last reduction of many in the budget plan since it was first announced. Initially, they hoped to budget 3.4 trillion rubles for their aerospace industry over the next decade. The final budget approved yesterday is for 1.4 trillion. That’s a 59% reduction.

Considering that the reductions have forced them to abandon any plans for building a re-usable rocket, they will be increasingly hard-pressed in the next decade to successfully compete for business in the commercial market. While Russia stands still with its older designs, others will be developing new less costly ways to launch rockets. The business will go elsewhere, and they will actually have even less money to work with.

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Roscosmos approves space tourism project

The competition heats up? Russia’s giant aerospace monopoly Roscosmos has given formal permission for the development of a suborbital space tourism project, proposed by the formally independent company, KosmoKurs.

Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos has admitted the private space company KosmoKurs to working out a project for the development of a reusable system for space tourism flights, KosmoKurs Director General Pavel Pushkin said on Friday. “Our technical design specification was approved by Roscosmos two days ago. The system’s preliminary design will be created with this document,” Pushkin said at the InSpace forum.

According to him, the technical design specification has also been approved by the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash) and the Keldysh Research Center. In addition, Pushkin said, Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov has already approved the project. “Igor Anatolyevich has taken the project with enthusiasm and gave orders to promote this project”, Pushkin said.

So, if I understand this right, this private company had to get approvals from Roscosmos’s bureaucracy, two other competitive groups within Roscosmos, plus the head of Roscosmos itself, before it would be allowed to proceed with building its independent suborbital operation. I wonder how many bribes KosmosKurs had to pay along the way. I also wonder what kind of quid pro quo deals that had to make in order get those other institutes to give their okay.

With Russia’s aerospace industry function under this kind of set-up, I doubt they are going to get much done in the coming decades.

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Russia cancels all Moon missions till 2025

Faced with a shrinking budget and poor economic conditions, Russia has once again trimmed back its proposed ten-year space plan for the next decade in space, cancelling all Moon missions until after 2025.

Russian might now have a giant government-run aerospace corporation, but flying space missions is not really its primary task. Like all government agencies divorced from profit and loss, its primary task is really to provide pork barrel jobs, regardless of whether those jobs do anything useful or not. Thus, Russia will have a very expensive space program for the next decade, but the money spent will not accomplish much of anything new.

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