These are not the best times for the Russian aerospace industry. For budgetary reasons, Roscosmos has reduced the number of cosmonauts on the International Space Station from three to two. Due to technical problems with its rockets and cost pressures from SpaceX, the country’s once lucrative commercial launch industry is fading. And soon conditions may deteriorate.
The United States plans to stop paying Russia hundreds of millions of dollars a year for Soyuz seats next year as it develops its own transportation to the space station. And the European Space Agency has indicated that it will stop launching Russian Soyuz rockets from its French Guiana-based spaceport in early 2020.
Russian space editor Andrei Borisov captured the fading zeitgeist of the Russian space program in a lengthy article about Roscosmos’ new leader Dmitry Rogozin and the changes he has proposed. “The ‘Russian space’ that Rogozin is trying to create is reminiscent of the Dark Ages in Europe,” Borisov writes. Lenta.Ru, where he serves as editor of science and technology. “There is no room in it for modernization, there is only the mission of survival.”
The article catalogs current Russian efforts to develop newer, competitive rockets and modern spacecraft. All of these efforts, Borisov notes, are behind schedule, outdated or already uncompetitive.
For example, the Russian space agency has been developing a ‘new’ science and research module for the ‘Nauka’ space station since 1995. More than two decades later, the module is still awaiting a decision as to whether it should actually be completed.
Borisov argues that this is because there are concerns about problems after the launch. “No official of the Russian space industry wants to take responsibility for the laboratory module and its safety for use as part of the ISS, about which many questions have been raised,” he writes. (A 3000 word translation of the article was provided to Ars by Robinson Mitchell).
The story is similar for the next-generation Russian spacecraft, Federation. Rather than invest in this new vehicle designed for deep space crew activities, which has been in development for a decade, Russia will likely choose to continue overhauling the Soyuz spacecraft, launched 52 years ago. was first launched. This was before NASA’s Apollo capsule had flown.
Russia also faces difficult decisions with its missile programs. Rogozin has already made the decision to retire the Proton booster and prefer to focus on the next generation of Angara missiles. However, Borisov suggests that this line of missiles is “already obsolete”. (There have been only two test flights of the Angara missiles: a small Angara 1 in 2014 and a larger Angara 5 in the same year).
One problem is that these Angara rockets were conceived and developed just before SpaceX rose to prominence and delivered on the promise of cheaper spaceflight. By comparison, the Angara missiles are expensive. The more bulky Angara 5 has a similar payload to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but its cost of about $100 million is significantly above the Falcon 9’s $62 million cost.
For this reason, Roscosmos has also proposed to develop the Soyuz 5 rocket. This booster would be cost-competitive with the Falcon 9, but it won’t make its first test flight until 2024. And Rogozin has already talked about stopping the Soyuz 5 project because it is not simple enough and should have a methane. engine. Roscosmos “must build a booster of a totally different quality, simple and reliable, like an automatic Kalashnikov rifle,” he has said.
The bottom line is that global demand for Russian missiles is rapidly dwindling, and the great hope for the future, the Soyuz 5, remains years, if not decades away. How long can Russia survive on faded glory? “There are serious doubts about the future of Russian launchers and spacecraft,” concludes Borisov.