Dmitry Rogozin stamped "Roskosmos" to the ground

The founder of the Outer Space project Vitaly Yegorov talks about the difficulties of choosing a superproject for the development of the Russian cosmonautics.
"Roskosmos" at a crossroads. On the one hand, the state does not promise to increase funding for the space industry. On the other hand, former foreign customers leave: American astronauts are about to transfer to their ships, commercial customers have already switched from Proton to Falcon 9, the replacement of the Russian RD-180 engine is already undergoing tests, the French are preparing to launch Ariane-6, a rival of Soyuz- ST ". The last major contract for 20 missiles with the OneWeb satellite operator is only entering the active phase, and the customer itself is experiencing investor confidence problems and delaying scheduled launches. Political factors such as the Pentagon’s ban on launching commercial telecommunications satellites by Russian missiles are superimposed on all this.

Any sensibly assessing the situation in our space program understands that the situation is radically changing. It is still possible to ironize over the wrecks of American ships, but there is little time for jokes: the bill is no longer for years, but for months. Keeping the current level of state financing, our cosmonautics is threatened by slow degradation, loss of competencies and conversion - the transfer of production to solving earthly problems.

Roscosmos is trying to save the situation by launching “tourists” from the UAE or Turkey. The zeal of his head, Dmitry Rogozin, in promoting this service in the international arena deserves respect, but these successes are not able to close even a quarter of the financial hole that opens after the Americans leave.

The only real salvation that Roskosmos sees for itself is a multiple increase in state funding. Our cosmonautics needs at least 1.5 times more funds to stand on its feet confidently and to breathe from constant reorganizations and optimizations, just to carry out the federal space program until 2024: deal with the debts of the Center named after Khrunichev, to complete the ISS, launch three spacecraft to the moon, finish the flight tests of the Angara ... And to begin development, you need 2 times more money: make a new spaceship and a new line of rockets, complete the Vostochny, transfer satellites to Russian electronic-component base, to begin a new stage in fundamental space research with modern tasks, and not those that stretch back from the 1980-1990s. But this is all in the dreams of representatives of the domestic space industry, in the same place as the revival of the “Buran”, the inhabited base on the moon and the flight to Mars.
The state does not have money for the realization of these dreams, because other departments also have dreamers. Cosmonautics of Russia will not be able to grow more intensively than its economy if it does not come up with something radically new and important not only for Roskosmos, but for the whole country. In recent years, there have been three such large-scale projects at Roscosmos: the manned lunar program, the Ether global network of low-Earth orbit satellite, and the Sphere multifunctional satellite system.

The severity of the moon and "ether"

A flight of Russian cosmonauts to the moon, or at least to the near-moon space, can load the idle capacities of the design bureaus and Roscosmos enterprises for 10 years ahead. After all, we need a superheavy rocket of the scale of the past N-1 or "Energy" and a new interplanetary spacecraft. If you create your own near-moon visited station, it will be generally wonderful - not a single flight, but a whole saga with regular visits for years or decades. This project has only one problem: a new ship and a giant rocket are no longer needed for anything other than flying to the Moon and back. And all for the sake of repeating the achievement that the Americans made 50 years ago.

Counting on the lunar state contract, Rogozin almost believed in the theory of a lunar conspiracy - so there is a hope to be the first on the moon. Even the congratulation on the 50th anniversary of the landing of the man on the moon on behalf of Roscosmos is written in such a way that it is not clear whether this refers to a flight to the moon or filming in Hollywood. However, President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly publicly stated that he does not doubt the reality of the Apollo program. Recently, the preliminary design of the Roscosmos superheavy rocket was again wrapped up due to insufficient substantiation. According to some estimates, the lunar program will cost Russia from 0.7 trillion to 1.5 trillion rubles, which means an increase in the budget of Roscosmos by 1.5–2 times. The significance for the country, in the performance of Roscosmos, is only one thing - to wipe the nose of the Americans.

The Ether project, a network of several hundred satellites for providing Internet around the world, was presented by the previous management of Roskosmos. For its development and launch, Roscosmos proposed actively attracting extrabudgetary funding. At first, the sum of 300 billion rubles was called. Then it only grew, but no investors were found. The economic prospects of the project are more illusory every day: in the competing SpaceX Starlink system mass production of satellites has already been established and 240 of them have been launched, the second competitor OneWeb conducted flight tests of the first satellites and in February launched a series of 34 devices. On the way, projects from Amazon, Samsung and other comers who are more successful than Roskosmos in the art of selling goods and services on the global market. Air plans to become a global service and generate income from foreign users, but Roskosmos’s ability to sell the service not to the state, and none of the investors seriously believed millions of users.

The Sphere project is even more ephemeral than Ethereum, although it is more material, since Roskosmos considers it the first stage of all existing Russian non-military satellites. Judging by the descriptions, more than five hundred satellites of the "Sphere" should do everything at once: take pictures of the Earth, distribute the Internet, send GLONASS navigation signals and so on. In fact, “Sphere” is a program to upgrade the Russian civilian satellite constellation and transfer the satellite-building industry to a new technological level. However, an attempt to present it as a kind of unified system that promises serious benefits to the state looks like a profanity. For each task - Earth surveying, data transmission, navigation - you need your own device, your inclination and orbit, your own flight program, and it is impossible to unify all tasks.

Gazprom Space Systems hopes to participate in the Sphere project, though not as an investor, but as a contractor - the manufacturer of an unprecedentedly large number of satellites of the Marathon data transmission system. It is strange that Roskosmos agrees to such a withdrawal of a significant part of the potential money pie. Roscosmos is trying to interest the Sphere in China, but in reality our cosmonautics can hardly offer anything to its eastern neighbor. In rocket technology, he almost caught up with us, and in electronics - far ahead.
"Sphere" is estimated at 1 trillion or more rubles. The project's prospects are vague, although more real than flights to the moon. In any case, Roskosmos will be engaged in a planned update of the satellite constellation according to the previous programs, therefore significant funds will still be allocated, even if it is not called the Sphere. The main problem of the "Sphere" is the same as that of the lunar program - it is not clear why the country needs it. In presentations, Roskosmos may refer to the “multiplier effect in the development of new technologies and the economy of the Russian Federation”, but it cannot explain in plain language how this project will help in solving the current economic and social problems of the country.

What to choose

What to choose "Roskosmos"? There is no simple answer and will not be, but, in my opinion, it is worth learning from your own story. The previous large-scale super-task of our space program was the Energy-Buran program. The space shuttle has reached its goal - it showed the Americans that Russians can do that too. But from a practical point of view, the system turned out to be completely useless - the USSR had every opportunity to launch cargo and people without a space plane. "Energy-Buran" crumbled like the USSR, but what remains is called a backlog. The reserve of Energia became the Russian-Ukrainian-American Sea Launch project, the Ukrainian Zenit rocket and their own Mriya aircraft, it also became the modern pride of Roskosmos - the RD-180 and RD-171 engines. The Angara missile can also be considered the granddaughter of Energy. The backlog of "Energy" and "Zenith" is now going to be turned into a future superheavy lunar rocket. That is, the project, useless at the time of its creation, became useful in the future and has been feeding the next generation of rocket scientists for the third decade. However, a lot of effort was literally “buried in the sand”: the test facilities in the Moscow region were turned into a warehouse, and the launch complex in Baikonur will at best become a museum complex, and at worst, it will be dismantled for scrap.

Based on the experience of Energia-Buran, Roscosmos should consider a project that will not just close today's budget holes and allow current directors to stay until retirement. Our cosmonautics needs a project that will become the basis of development for the next half century. The main problems of the industry are under-utilization of capacities (people and plants could be 2 times more, but there is only a state order for the first half, so you have to deal with conversion: gas pipelines, trams, breweries); Dependence on Soviet technology (there is no way to do it from scratch, since the old one is still working and its use is cheaper); dependence on foreign electronics (astronautics orders too small batches for a domestic manufacturer to create specially new and modern elements for it); staffing problems due to the lack of noticeable development, low career prospects and low wages; catastrophic bureaucratization and regulation of the entire industry.

It is these problems that the new Russian space super-project should solve, and, in my opinion, the Sphere is closest to the goal. But the project should also carry out more important state functions, which will show the Kremlin the real need for budget allocations. “Roskosmos”, by trying to present itself as a leader in world cosmonautics, is driving itself into a logical trap: if everything is so good for you, why do you need more money? If he recognized the problems and showed a convincing way out of them, you see, something would have moved out of the current orbit.