Wed. Nov 30th, 2022
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L) at a meeting on Wednesday on the financial and economic condition of the Roscosmos State Corporation.
enlarge / Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L) at a meeting on Wednesday on the financial and economic condition of the Roscosmos State Corporation.

Dmitry Astakhov/TASS via Getty Images

The Russian space program is in crisis, with recent failures of its Soyuz launch system, dwindling orders for its commercial services and funding difficulties. These problems certainly didn’t start under Russian Space Corporation leader Dmitry Rogozin, but they seem to have worsened since he took office in May 2018.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, expressed his displeasure at the situation. During a meeting in Moscow with senior Roscosmos officials, Medvedev made sharp critical remarks reported by several Russian news organizations, including Gazeta.RU and RIA Novosti. (Translations were provided to Ars by Robinson Mitchell).

“This is a blunt and direct claim: We need to stop projecting plans for the future, stop talking about where our missions will land in 2030, get to work, talk less and do more,” Medvedev said. “We need to be more active in commercializing our space industry and increasing Russia’s international market share in commercial launches.”

Such comments from Medvedev, the head of government who reports directly to Vladimir Putin, were striking. As the Russian space agency has faced setbacks in recent years, its response has suggested large, ambitious civilian space projects — such as their own moon landings by 2030 or the development of large new rockets — as if they had the funding to carry them through. They don’t, and some Russian commentators have warned that the space program is approaching the “dark ages.”

Now Medvedev, in a public setting, has called on Rogozin for this tactic. He also expressed concern about Russia’s success in attracting commercial satellite launches amid the rise of SpaceX and other international competitors.

commercial decline

As late as 2015, Russia was the clear leader in global space launches, but after that, the United States (with its burgeoning commercial industry) and China tied the knot. The situation worsened in 2018, when Russia launched just 20 orbital missiles. With that, Russia dropped to a distant third place behind China (39 launches) and the United States (27). As demand for Russia’s Proton and other launchers declines, this difference could only widen in the future.

“Our space industry could become a commercial success, but Russia is far from that at the moment,” the prime minister said. “We must not forget that space travel is a huge market where there is real competition, so we have to work seriously to stay in the market. Our rocket and space industry can and should be a commercial success under the current circumstances. We are still there for the time being far from.”

Also present at the meeting was Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, who oversees Russia’s military-industrial complex, which includes the space program. He made similar comments during the meeting and afterwards with journalists. While Russia should have ambitious goals in space, they should be based on reality, Borisov said.

Dmitry Rogozin, general manager of the Roscosmos State Corporation, is seen during the meeting.
enlarge / Dmitry Rogozin, general manager of the Roscosmos State Corporation, is seen during the meeting.

Dmitry Astakhov/TASS via Getty Images

“We also need to think about a moon landing and deep space exploration, but all of these goals should be part of an overarching strategy, not just populism and grand projections,” he said. “The space industry is fairly commercially successful in the world today, and we need to address issues of space exploration and provide all space services with some measure of usability.”

It is not clear how Rogozin, who had a sometimes combative personality on the international stage, will react to this criticism. However, his troubles come at a crucial time in the US-Russia partnership in space. Later this year, or early 2020, NASA will begin using privately developed commercial vehicles to take its astronauts to the International Space Station. This will deprive the Russian space program of a major source of revenue amid its financial crisis.

By akfire1

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