Space War: how the success of Elon Musk hit Roskosmos

SpaceX first made a successful re-launch of Falcon 9. Now satellite delivery could fall in price by a third. If Russia does not reduce the cost of commercial launches, it will have to withdraw from this market, warn industry experts.
03.04.2017
RBC
Origin source
Technological breakthrough

On the night of Friday, March 31, the private US company SpaceX made the first successful launch of the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster rocket for the first time. The rocket was launched from the cosmodrome at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Falcon 9 delivered an SES-10 communications satellite into orbit, and nine minutes later its first stage, which was already in space last April, landed on the offshore platform Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic.

The press secretary of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov called this result "an important achievement" and noted that Moscow is closely following "technological breakthroughs throughout the world". Congratulated the founder of SpaceX Ilona Mask with the re-launch of the Falcon 9 missile and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, and the head of the Roskosmos state corporation Igor Komarov said that the achievements of the Mask do not allow to relax. "They certainly make us work," he said.

SpaceX is not going to stop there and plans to produce 27 commercial and civil launches this year.

Key Players

Four years ago, the market of commercial space launches was divided, in fact, by two players: Russia and the European Union. The share of the USA, India, China and Japan on it was insignificant. The situation changed dramatically with the advent of the American private company SpaceX in this market, which not only quickly won a place in "commercial space", but also managed to take a leading position in it.

Starting services are the launching of space vehicles into the Earth's orbit. 90% of this market is the launch of telecommunications satellites, the remaining 10% is the withdrawal of experimental spacecraft, Earth remote sensing satellites, etc. Back 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 booster rocket. 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 lower the launch price of the "Proton" "By almost a third, to $ 70 million.

Dumping in the market

The first stage is one of the most expensive parts in the rocket (30-40% of its cost). The successful re-launch of the Mask is considered a "revolution in space flights". According to his calculations, the restart of used missiles will reduce the cost of subsequent launches by 30%, or almost $ 20 million. If these estimates are correct, the next round of dumping in the space launch market will lead to a drop in the cost of one launch to $ 40-45 million.

The head of SpaceX does not give the real cost of the re-launch, says the main analyst of GLONASS, Andrei Ionin. "The mask did not say how much he spent on checking this stage and its revision before restarting," the analyst said. In his opinion, the cost reduction will not be so great.

Decrease in the cost is really unlikely to exceed the mark of 20%, which, incidentally, is also significant, said a member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics. Tsiolkovsky Alexander Zheleznyakov. For Russia, which missile technology has become obsolete for a long time, any reduction in the cost of launching is "an outstanding thing," said the head of the Space Policy Institute Ivan Moiseyev.

Problems of Roskosmos

"Roskosmos" to reduce the price will be quite difficult, RBC's interlocutors in the industry agree. "It's about out-of-date equipment and staffing problems. Perhaps, a slightly wrong strategy for the development of the space industry in our country has been chosen, "Zheleznyakov said.

Taking into account the fact that Roskosmos plans to switch to flight tests of a space rocket with a reusable first stage only in 2031, it will be difficult to reduce the cost of launching the state corporation. Russia not only does not catch up, but surrenders its positions, according to RBC's interlocutors. As a result, everything is going to the fact that Mask lures customers from Moscow and actually pushes it out of the launch services market, they note.

Russia for quite a long time was in the lead in this segment, losing for the first time to the USA and China in 2016, Zheleznyakov stressed. He recalled that over the past year, Russia made 18 successful launches (of which two are commercial launches), the United States - 22 (half - commercial), China - 21 (one commercial). Europe launched its missiles 11 times (all on a commercial order, Russian launch vehicles Soyuz were used for two launches).

"The surrender of positions" is explained by the constant reduction in funding and the decline in reputation due to unsuccessful launches, the academician notes.

So, in June 2016, the launch of the "Proton" was postponed due to problems with the ground-based electrical system. In December, the launch of the "Proton" was canceled because of the detected debris in the engine of the rocket, Tass reported.

In January 2017, all engines produced by the Voronezh Mechanical Plant for the second and third stages of the Proton-M were withdrawn. It turned out that they used solder without precious metals, not provided for by technology. It was reported that there could also be garbage in the engines.

The loss of customers is not so much related to a decrease in the reliability of Russian missiles, but to the consequence of sanctions imposed on the Russian space-rocket industry in 2014, Andrei Ionin believes. According to him, against the background of the confrontation between Moscow and Washington, no one wants to conclude "risky" contracts with Russia.

"The satellite costs $ 150-300 million. It should bring profit. Suppose, for 15 years to bring billions of dollars. And no one will risk the possibility of any complications of the project because of the relationship between Russia and the United States, "said Ionin.

At the same time, Roskosmos's budget now stands at about $ 3 billion, and NASA's nearly $ 18 billion, he added. "This is more than the space budget of all other countries combined. The total budget of China, the EU, Russia and India does not reach half of this figure, "Ionin stressed. Half of the orders The mask is provided by NASA, the analyst said.

Achievements SpaceX marred an already sad situation for Russia, Ivan Moiseyev said. "Over the past few years, the alignment has changed in such a way that Europe was able to maintain its share of the commercial launch market, but Russia and the United States switched places," he concludes.

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