Russia Plans To Spend $70 Billion On Space as ILS Stresses Independent Review of Proton Anomaly

Russia Plans To Spend $70 Billion On Space as ILS Stresses Independent Review of Proton Anomaly

Despite a very recent malfunction that added to Russia’s growing list of launch vehicle anomalies, high level Russian government officials are touting the future of the country’s space program and a return to the capabilities under the Soviet-era.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Russia’s news agency RIA Novosti that Russia will spend 2.1 trillion rubles, about $70 billion, for development of its space industry over the 2013-2020 time period. The total will enable Russia to “effectively participate in forward-looking projects, such as the ISS, the study of the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies in the solar system,” he said.

Separately, Russian space agency director Vladimir Popovkin told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency that “By 2015 we shall restore the capabilities we had back in the Soviet era, and in 2015-2020 we are to create conditions for a breakthrough on the basis of new technologies.”

These bold statements were not accompanied by many details. For example, it is not clear exactly what is included in the 2.1 trillion ruble ($70 billion) figure. That funding spans eight years, so is on average $8.75 billion per year. Medvedev said it includes “extrabudgetary” sources implying it is more than what the Russian government budget will fund. Presumably it includes payments the United States makes to Russia for crew transportation and other services related to the International Space Station (ISS) — about $450 million per year according to NASA.

It might also include money the Russian space industry earns through commercial launches. According to The Space Report 2012, published by the Space Foundation, in 2011 Russia conducted 10 commercial launches, or 56 percent of the global commercial space launch market. How much it earned from those launches is not public, and whether it will retain that percentage of the market — and thereby contribute to the overall total of how much Russia invests in its space program — may depend on restoring confidence in Russia’s launch vehicle fleet.

Russia has endured an unusual two years of launch vehicle failures that may give prospective customers second thoughts. The most recent anomaly, of a Proton rocket’s Briz upper stage, placed Russia’s Yamal 402 communications satellite into the wrong orbit. Although ground controllers were able to use the satellite’s own propulsion system to eventually boost the satellite into the correct position, the fuel usage will reduce the satellite’s operational lifetime from 15 years to 11 years.

The incident underscored continuing concerns about the health of the Russian space industry. The launch was conducted by International Launch Services (ILS).  It issued a statement today that various root causes of the failure are still being evaluated. RIA Novosti reported yesterday that Roscosmos has concluded a bad bearing in a turbopump was the problem, but the ILS statement stresses that it formed its own independent failure review oversight board to look at the Russian government’s findings.  It will not issue its own final report until its independent review is completed. 

The Russian government has been conducting an intensive review of the space sector, led by Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. The statements to the Russian press today signal that the government plans to shore up its support of the space program, building on a substantial increase in government space spending last year. The Space Report 2012 states that the Russian government’s calendar year 2011 planned spending was $4.12 billion, a 21.2 percent increase over the previous year. By comparison, it calculated total U.S. government space spending (military and civil) in 2011 at $47.25 billion, a 0.4 percent decrease.

Precisely where Russia’s $70 billion announced today will go over the next eight years is unclear. RIA Novosti quotes Dmitry Paison, director of development for the Skolkovo space cluster, as saying the money is for “the Federal Space Program, the Federal Special Program for the Development of the Glonass system, the program for the development of space launch centers and the non-classified part of the program for the technical modernization of the industry.” Paison’s omission of classified programs is understandable, but leaves open the question of what other space spending the Russian government plans that is not public.

Glonass is Russia’s navigation satellite system, analogous to the U.S. GPS system, and a high priority of the Putin government. The head of the company that builds and manages the program recently left his job — some say he was fired, others say he left due to illness — after an investigation found the company embezzled $200 million of government funding.

Popovkin also said today that the current Russian share of the “world market of space services” will rise from 10 percent today to 16 percent, though he did not say over what time period. By comparison, he said the United States has 60 percent of that market “including production and the services provided” and that the United States controls “about 70 percent of the television and radio market.”   The source of his data was not mentioned.   As already noted, in 2011 Russia had 56 percent of the commercial launch services market, while the United States conducted no commercial launches. The Space Report 2012 further states that the United States had 38 percent of the world market for commercial satellite manufacturing, down from 51 percent the prior year (no figure was provided for Russia). Country-by-country breakdowns of other market segments, such as commercial space products and services, including satellite communications and broadcasting, also are not provided in that report.

The bottom line is that although many details are missing, the statements by Medvedev and Popovkin convey that the Russian government plans to step up its investment in space activities.

Indeed, during the past year Russia has announced plans for additional space-based telescopes and robotic lunar probes, joined in Europe’s ExoMars program, announced progress in developing a replacement for the venerable Soyuz spaceship that takes crews to the ISS, and expressed continued interest in building a new launch site at Vostochny in the far eastern region of the country. Some of these plans have been in the works for many years, making claims of progress only mildly credible, but at a time of duress in the Russian space program, the vote of confidence from top government leaders undoubtedly comes as welcome news to the Russian space industry and, presumably, its customers.

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