Experts called the payback period of the Russian reusable rocket

Russia has resumed work on the project of a reusable launch vehicle. Why do we need a project, which will not be able to make money in more than ten years, RBC explained.
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Forgotten experience

On Tuesday, January 9, the director general of the Khrunichev Center Alexei Varochko said that the center, together with Roskosmos and OKB Myasishchev, had resumed work on the project of the reusable Angara-1.2 booster rocket. It is assumed that the missile will be equipped with folding wings, which can be opened after the cargo is put into orbit, in order to land at the aerodrome. We also study options for returning the first stage with our own engines, like Ilona Maska's Falcon-9 rocket, or parachute landing. The technical appearance of the reusable "Angara" will be presented this spring to the collegium of the military industrial commission, Izvestia wrote.

The plans of specialists of the Khrunichev Center to create reusable launch vehicles on the basis of the existing scientific and technical reserve are a logical step in the development of the industry, RBC said in the press service of Roskosmos. "Such experience exists in our country," the state corporation said.

This is the third attempt of the Khrunichev Center to create a reusable rocket - this time the development of a reusable stage for a light-weight missile has begun. In 2000, the center together with NPO Molniya developed a reusable accelerator Baikal for the first stage of the heavy Angara missile. It was assumed that the first stage of the rocket, initially equipped with a rotary wing, after the separation would return to the airfield. The "Baikal" model was shown at the air show in Le Bourget in 2001, but the project did not receive any development. Work on the winged block for the Angara was conducted in 2011-2013 in the framework of the project of a reusable rocket and space system (MRKS), but then the scientific and technical council of Roskosmos considered that the cost of removing a kilogram of cargo using MRKS was higher than with a one-time flight.

Why does Russia need a reusable rocket

December 12 last year, presidential aide Andrei Belousov criticized the activities of Roskosmos, saying that the organization has a "huge mass of people" who "can not" figure "money". 220 thousand employed, 20% of them are people under the age of 30, and not the most stupid, he said. Of the 90 organizations, approximately two-thirds are research and development. "And this huge mass of people can not earn money. Is this normal? "The official asked.

Calculations show that with the help of a reusable rocket, the development of which was announced by Roskosmos, it is possible to reduce the cost of launches, Alexander Zheleznyakov, a member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after Tsiolkovsky, said in a conversation with RBC. The decrease in the cost of launch services is, in turn, the ability to "tear off a piece" from the market of commercial space launches or at least "not to fly out" of it, the scientist believes. "So the decision is understandable and reasonable. The fact that the experience in this area already exists facilitates the work of the Khrunichev Center, "he added.

Key Players

About five years ago, the market of commercial space launches was divided between two players, Russia and the European Union. The share of the United States, India, China and Japan on it was insignificant. The deal changed with the emergence of the US private company SpaceX Ilona Mask, which was able to take a leading position in this market.

Launcher services are the launching of space vehicles into the Earth's orbit. 90% of the market is the launch of telecommunications satellites, the remaining 10% - the withdrawal of experimental spacecraft, Earth remote sensing satellites, etc. In 2014, the cost of launching a communications satellite into a geostationary orbit using a one-time Proton-M rocket booster was about $ 90 -100 million depending on the terms of the contract. The launch price of the European Ariane-5 was approximately $ 180-200 million (the rocket displays two satellites with one launch).

In 2012, SpaceX first conducted a commercial launch of the Falcon-9 launch vehicle. For three years, the company made 20 successful launches, the total cost of one is $ 62 million. In this connection, in 2015, in order to stay on the market, Russia had to reduce the launch price of the Proton by almost a third, to $ 70 million. The launch of the Angara-A5 "Costs about $ 100 million.

The push to resume work on the project of a reusable rocket was exactly the achievements of SpaceX, says the general director of Kosmokursa (engaged in the creation of a reusable suborbital space complex for tourist flights into space), the former manager of the Khrunichev Center, who participated in the development of the Angara, Pavel Pushkin.

The company Ilona Mask successfully exploits the technology of returning the first stage (the most expensive part) of the carrier rocket. In 2017, it conducted 17 launches of the Falcon-9 missile: in 13 cases it was possible to successfully land the first stage of the rocket using its own engine, in three more because of the mission (for example, the need to deliver a heavy satellite to the geostationary orbit), the return of the first stage is not it was supposed. In one case, according to the plan, the rocket sat in the ocean. Usually, missiles return to the site at Cape Canaveral or to the sea platform.

In 2018, SpaceX has conducted one launch so far. On January 8 Falcon-9 with Zuma satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral. On Tuesday, January 9, Bloomberg reported that the company could not bring the satellite to a given orbit, with the first stage of the rocket successfully returned to Earth.

When you can earn

In practice, it has not yet been proved that a reusable step is profitable, Pushkin believes. "Mask showed a technical opportunity to return the first stage and says that it will be profitable, but not that it has become profitable," he said. The cost of launching such a rocket will be about $ 20 million, but it is not developed for widespread use, believes Pushkin.

In the opinion of the head of Cosmocourse, the development of a reusable stage for a light-weight rocket is conducted only for the purpose of mastering the technology itself. Although the launch of the light Angara is three times cheaper than the launch of a heavy rocket, it delivers about 13 times less cargo than a heavy reusable Falcon-9 missile, so it will not be possible to make a return using a reusable light Angara, Pushkin explained. "Most likely, after mastering the technology, we will be offered some new rocket like the reusable rocket and space system, which will show economic efficiency," he concluded.

A light reusable rocket will never pay off, agrees the creator of the community "Open Space" Vitaly Egorov. "For Roskosmos, this is exclusively a new experience. More or less normal money can be earned only on heavy reusable rockets. Russia will be able to make money on this not earlier than in ten years, "he said.

The project to develop a reusable light missile will cost Russia no less than $ 100 million, believes Zheleznyakov. "It's not a very simple system being developed. It requires the creation not only of the rocket itself or the stage, but also of the corresponding ground support systems, "he said.

At the same time, it will be realistic to earn money if the number of launches increases. "For example, now there is a OneWeb project with satellite low-orbit Internet, there will need to launch hundreds of spacecraft. However, if we talk about the main market for missile launches, then there is a drop in the number of launches, "Yegorov said.

Ten years is really the time that will be required to create a multiple stage, says Zheleznyakov. "Concerning the reduction of the cost of launches: if we can not offer another way to reduce the cost of launches, then we must reach out to those who have already done something. And we still need to reduce, otherwise we will be forced out of this market, "he concluded.

Other competitors

Even if Russia succeeds in realizing the project of a reusable rocket, it will be necessary to compete not only with the US, say experts interviewed by RBC. Second after America, Russia's largest rival - China, drew attention Zheleznyakov. In the footsteps of SpaceX is the Chinese private company Link Space, which is created without the participation of state and military structures. She plans to create a rocket with a returnable first stage by 2020, said company CEO Hu Zhenyu in September 2017. He also added that this development is expected to spend only $ 45 million.

And two days ago, on January 8, specializing in the news of the world space industry, the US SpaceNews resource reported that the French and German space agencies CNES and DLR have been studying the possibility of launching a reusable Callisto in 2020. The project is expected to spend $ 43 million to $ 86 million. The idea of ​​creating Callisto was partly caused by the reaction to the development of SpaceX, the article said.

While Russia has an advantage over Europe and China - the presence of heavy missiles, for example, the "Proton", which can put more cargo into orbit than European and Chinese ones, Zheleznyakov noted. If the competitors realize their projects by 2020, it is likely that Russia will start to lag behind them, he added. "But if we do not take any steps at all, then we are guaranteed to lag behind these countries and will not be able to compete in the market of space launches," the academician summed up.