Rogozin: Russia Was & Remains Dominant in Space

After the successful launch of "Dragon Crew", which took place on 30 May, Dmitry Rogozin, the Director General of Roscosmos, commented on the event in a Forbes op-ed. Here follows the full text of his commentary as it was published by Roscosmos.

Follow New Defence Order. Strategy on Google News.

Some time has passed since the ‘epochal’ launch of the private US SpaceX company’s new crewed spacecraft. I think, it’s time to share some thoughts on the situation per se and what will happen in the coming years.

So, what happened? 2011 saw closing down of the American crewed spacecraft launches to the ISS. The closure came as the result of its immense costliness and unforgivable failure rate. In crewed spaceflights, with people going into space aboard the vehicles, reliability is key to evaluate these technical means ensuring safety of the crews. Thus, the closure came as a predictable and forced measure, as the Americans lost as many as two crews. Disasters and emergencies have already occurred in crewed cosmonautics, but none of them took this many lives at once.

Finding itself without its own space transport system, NASA was hectically searching for a solution — and it was found. Colossal funds were allocated to create three crewed spacecraft at once with the order distributed among several companies: Lockheed Martin (Orion Moon spacecraft), SpaceX (Crew Dragon) and Boeing (Starliner). Just to give a clue about the generosity of the US government, I will mention only the fact that Elon Musk’s company received the state-built cosmodrome at no expense, NASA-paid scientific and technological groundwork and best engineering talents, but also budget funds to create its own spacecraft. Contrary to common belief, the head of SpaceX built the spacecraft not on his dime, but at the expense of the American taxpayers. In addition, the budget funds allocated to Elon Musk are three times bigger than the funding of the contract between Roscosmos and RSC Energia to develop a much more complex Russian lunar ‘Oryol’ spacecraft (lit. ‘Eagle’). By the way, the Vostochny Cosmodrome costs 2.5 times cheaper than this purportedly private spacecraft — taking into account that the cosmodrome is being built in the Amur taiga 8-hour-flight away from Moscow with no necessary workforce, nor construction machinery or logistic centers (all of that we had to bring or create there in the Far East). 

Equally strange is the statement that 'for the first time a private company created a crewed spacecraft'. And what about Boeing and Lockheed Martin? Aren't they still private or have they been nationalized? SpaceX is no less a private company than Boeing is with the ties to the Pentagon being no weaker.

So, what is the reason for the excitement around the Crew Dragon launch?

First. Judging by the overall rejoicing on May 30, the Americans of course were pretty anxious about the fact that they were fully dependent on the reliability of the Russian Soyuz MS spacecraft for all these nine years while sending their crews to the International Space Station. But we didn't fail neither them nor ourselves. Moreover, finding ourselves face to face with space, we fulfilled our liabilities to our partners from the US, Canada, Europe and Japan — in full and with high quality. We took our partners who had no spacecraft at hand to the station, having to cut our crews thus cutting our flight and experiment program aboard the Russian ISS segment. 

Indeed, through all the nine years NASA and Boeing paid for all the preparations of their specialists in Star City and Baikonur, as well as for that lucky roundtrip space ticket. However, we earned this honest money, while it will not equal the colossal moral load the Russian crewed cosmonautics had on its shoulders, staying alone for the humanity to support the International Space Station operability and deliver the crews there. In the same manner the paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian are priceless being unique and are common heritage, the same is true about the chance given to the Americans by Roscosmos to retain an opportunity to deliver their astronauts to the space station — it is priceless.

In this connection, I note another strange moment seen in not only the ‘expert’ statements, but also coming from the side of NASA officials, who have already started making wreaths to bury the Russian Soyuz spacecraft alive. Like, the price of a Crew Dragon seat is $55 mil. while a Soyuz seat costs over $90 meaning the Russians will have to fly to the ISS only on the American spacecraft. I guess, the American colleagues are a bit lost in numbers and make spiteful remarks in vain. The new American spacecraft are more than double the weight of a Soyuz while offering only one additional seat. To launch such a massive vehicle, Falcon 9 and Atlas V heavy class rockets are used for Crew Dragon and Starliner respectively — let alone the fact that Atlas V is equipped with the Russian RD-180 engine as the first stage main engine. In contrast, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft is injected into orbit by the Soyuz-2.1a rocket being a middle class launch vehicle, and not a heavy one. Given that, the cost of our launches is substantially lower than the American. The sirs seem to confuse launch cost price and launch service price that is formed by the market. Hence, I insist that Soyuz MS spacecraft with the Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket was and still remains unchallenged — whatever our competitors say.

Back in autumn 2008, when we had an emergency with the Soyuz FG rocket, our spacecraft saved the crew in that dramatic situation, and we returned Nick Hague to America being safe and sound, unscathed. We returned him and less than in six months we successfully delivered him to the destination point, the ISS. And when our partners finally managed to carry out a successful test of their spacecraft, we didn't get anything but jokes and mockery, although it would not be out of place to thank our Soyuz, its Soviet developers and Russian engineers who continued modernizing this most reliable spacecraft in the world. It would not be out of place to thank us that despite personal and sectoral sanctions we did not go to pieces and preserved cooperation in space. The Americans did not have to use the trampoline, as in my metaphor that got wind — we continued delivering their astronauts into space.

America is a very large country, and a large country should be benevolent and noble. However, some of my colleagues (not me, of course — I have no illusions about the partners after working as Russia’s representative to NATO) did not receive any words of gratitude or professional noble response, although they could fully count on that.

Second. The fact that some country now has its own spacecraft does not mean we do not have one anymore. Our country was the first to send a man into space, and we remain dominant.

On May 30 Elon Musk did not bring us down — he brought down his compatriots from Boeing passing them with the beginning of the flight tests. This war is theirs, but not ours. We have a long-standing and continuously working national transport system; we constantly refine it, at the same time building a new and more advanced spacecraft. 

Our Soyuz MS has proven to be the world’s most reliable spacecraft. We have a unique record of 173 successful flights. Even the three emergencies caused by the carrier rocket failures in 1975, 1983 and 2018 occurring during various injection stages showed its unique survivability due to the launch escape system reliability. By the way, the Soyuz rocket of various configurations has performed over 1,900 launches. And this statistics is the golden trademark. The US engineers have yet to earn this reputation. I sincerely wish them luck.

The time-honored spacecraft created and designed by Sergey Korolev to conquer the Moon, will serve for a while even after the new Oryol spacecraft becomes operational. Soyuz is our ‘space Kalashnikov rifle’ which still remains in high demand even with a huge arsenal of new weapons available and being more glamorous but not that reliable as the creations of our great designers. However, just as the Kalashnikov, our Soyuz is constantly being modernized remaining a state-of-the-art vehicle.

Having said that, I do agree with the criticism of the major lags and even generation gaps in creating new Russian space equipment. The gap is even more dangerous. The technology lives as long as its creator is alive. And if a creator does not have any pupils with a success story in rocket and space equipment development, things are looking bad.

The Soviet engineering school has provided the Russian cosmonautics not only Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, but also perfectly reliable and quality-price competitive Soyuz, Proton and Zenit rockets (the latter was discontinued after the coup in Kiev and the Ukrainian industry collapse that followed). The works to create the new Angara rocket (based on the universal modules principle) were sluggish since the late 1990s not only because there was almost no funding, but there was no drive to move om with the job. Like, why? We have the Proton, our earner — the market is almost ours...

The craving to get a piece of the pie got the best of the professional mind. As a result, not only we lost precious time, but also took a heap of decisions with a direct aim to get the power to dispose of the expensive land in the center of Moscow. The matter is settled now; we will not hand over Khrunichev Center land for commercial buildings. We will have both experimental rocket manufacturing and Salut Design Bureau team remain there, while the abandoned and empty territory will house the National Space Center buildings complex, which is to be completed in 2022. I will disappoint those who state that Roscosmos is building an office instead of rockets. This is not true. First, the construction is conducted at Moscow budget expense with no Roscosmos funds involved. Second, we aren’t building an office but a modern state-of-the-art engineering center for the Russian rocket engineers. They have earned it long ago. And if we demand new designs, we should create necessary working conditions, I think this should be clear to everyone.

The new team that I have been collecting at Roscosmos for the last two years will have to drastically change the situation in the industry; it is a matter of honor for us. Last year, in 2019 we managed to break the 16-year-long chain of emergencies and conduct 25 successful launches of space rockets. We successfully launched the unique Spektr-RG observatory reaching L2 Lagrangian point 1.5 million kilometers away from the Earth. We also set several world records on flight time to the International Space Station — our Progress transport spacecraft reached the station in slightly over three hours. And this is only the beginning. To get a win over our competitors and strengthen our expansion in space we will have to solve a number of tasks: 

1. Move forward with the new development including the new ecologically friendly Angara heavy class rocket (a substitution for Proton that will be banned to lift off after 2025 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome we lease from Kazakhstan). I hope that this summer Khrunichev Center will send the tuned-up rocket to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome and we will resume its flight tests in autumn. In 2021-2023 these tests will be regular, and in 2023 Angara is to lift off from the new launchpad at the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Angara has a deep modernization potential including hydrogen technologies, reusable stages technologies — but this is a completely different story. The main target now is to set it flying.

The new developments include the two-stage Soyuz light-heavyweight class rocket being created by the Progress rocket center in Samara. The rocket is to be ready for flight tests in 2023. What is unique about this rocket is that it will be the base for the medium class Soyuz-6 rocket equipped with the famous RD-180 engine (moreover, both Soyuz-5 and Soyuz-6 will lift off from the same universal launchpad, as well as the Soyuz-7 meant to be used for Sea Launch complex. A tidbit: when the Russian private company S7 was taking the Sea Launch command ship and launch platform from the American sea port, US government officials openly claimed that they won’t allow any competitors to Elon Musk appear in Russia (this is in regards to the question whether the American private companies are truly private). This is why prior to the Sea Launch complex transfer to the Russian company, all the space launch controls were literally ripped out from the panels. The recovery of the Sea Launch complex will require significant efforts of the Russian specialists, although this task is undoubtedly solvable.

The new Russian developments of course include the new reusable Oryol crewed spacecraft with its creation finally making progress. At the end of 2023, it is expected to begin flight tests in the unscrewed mode, while in 2025 it is to deliver cosmonauts to the ISS. This spacecraft is analogous to the American Orion spacecraft and is created to work in deep space. Oryol will serve as the base for the reusable cargo spacecraft. To inject Oryol into orbit, we have already started working to develop the super-heavy booster based on the Soyuz-5 and Soyuz-6 modules. Thus, all the newly created carrier rockets of all classes from the light to super-heavy are developed under the unified technical solution.

Being world’s leaders in rocket engine building, we have commenced the works in perspective areas, such as methane-powered engine. This is a very interesting topic with the Chemical Automatics Design Bureau being the main contractor. Methane-oxygen powered engine is the right way to create reusable rocket systems, and we have a nice scientific and technical base for that.

We also expect a technological breakthrough coming from the joint work with Rosatom on the transport and energy module with Keldysh Research Center and Arsenal Design Bureau being responsible for the project. We have made serious progress in understanding the operation technology of this nuclear-powered space tug, being the only choice for deep space missions.

Let us not forget Energia Rocket and Space Corporation and Khrunichev Center working to create new ISS modules. Nauka module, Nodal module Prichal also known as Uzlovoy Module, as well as Science Energy Module demonstrate that Russia is enhancing its segment of the space station, widening the scientific experiments capabilities and strengthening its independence from the partners.

Our design bureaus specializing on military technologies routinely and in full accordance with the working schedule are testing the newest Sarmat strategic missile complex preparing it for flight tests. Powerful and speedy Sarmat being created by Roscosmos will become a substitute for the legendary Voevoda (also known as Satan). This is the work of major importance, which will substantially strengthen Russia’s strategic nuclear potential.

Next year will see NPO Lavochkin resume the national Lunar program. In the end of 2021, we are planning to send the Luna-25 station to Earth’s natural satellite. This will be followed by Lunar orbiter and Lunar module to explore Lunar soil. This year, Information Satellite Systems Reshetnev will commence the GLONASS global navigation group renewal injecting new generation spacecraft into orbit. This is in broad-brush terms, let alone other no less interesting satellite construction projects.

So, who is now talking about stagnation in Russia’s space sphere? On the contrary, the nation’s rocket and space industry has not conducted that many research, development, and engineering projects since 1970s. The next three years will see a completely new generation of carrier rockets and space means capable to compete with the rivals. We have a vision of future ways of development, and the priorities have been set. However, the main thing is that this work will result in a new generation of experienced designers and engineers who will be able to proudly proclaim: ‘I have done it’. This is very important for the renovated industry and intellectual class self-affirmation.

2. At the same time, a universal cosmodrome is being created in Russia to launch all the above-mentioned space means. It is also important to rehabilitate Vostochny, continue the new ground space infrastructure construction keeping the timescales and quality without those public upheavals that followed the work of former Spetsstroy military construction departments. I insist, this is a very complicated task with the construction site being away from the main centers where the workforce and equipment is located. Complex technological equipment and structures are sent to the site via the Northern Sea Route, as it is impossible to transport it via railroads because of the dimensions. However, the construction process gains momentum, and I have no doubts that we will reach the Angara rocket launch with the Oryol spacecraft readiness by the end of 2023. To do so, we need to finish the main construction works in 2022. Moreover, the cosmodrome’s own airport should be completed so that heavy transport aircraft could deliver the powerful spacecraft with sensible electronics without the railroad pounding.

Vostochny and the city of Tsiolkovsky make up the hopefuls of our industry for a fully independent and guaranteed access into space. I visit Vostochny every month; discuss the construction problems with the specialists on a daily basis. A proper process organization and constant control are keys to the nation’s strategic project success.

3. Preparing a modern and well-proportioned production is no less important. The Soviet times with money spent left and right on space programs resulted in mostly oversized enterprises that now need to be maintained. Of course, it is stupid to compare SpaceX team of 6-7 thousand employees to the ‘bulky’ Roscosmos having 180,000 employees — in terms of the type of work it could be compared to Energia Corporation, although the latter has a wider profile than Elon Musk’s company does. Nevertheless, I agree that we must radically cut the costs and excessive nonproduction workers. By the way, under the conditions of pandemics, limited staff managed to retain continuous work, and it became clear at once, who can continue to work remotely and who is unnecessary.

4. It is highly important to start creating profile holdings in the nearest future. There will be four of them: rocket construction, satellite construction, ground space infrastructure and science. However, we will not merge design bureaus and engineering centers maintaining the competitive spirit between them in a bid for new projects. Meanwhile, the production should be mobilize to solve current and perspective tasks after renovating it and creating joint technological competence centers. Previously, each rocket and space company was created as a self-sufficient entity, with almost no technological transfer in the industry. Merging the enterprises together inside the joint state corporation will enable such ‘technological fitness’. And we aren’t going to drag it out for years. Russia’s space industry will become fit and able to timely and flexibly address the modern economy and rival challenges.

I will repeat myself — such a huge number of tasks should be solved in a very short period. But I am completely sure that we will succeed, as this success depends on the professionalism and motivation of the people responsible for the definite results — and not on the buying new machinery. And I do believe in these people. I do believe in those I am honored to work with. I do believe in our team capable of achieving major accomplishments of Russia in space.

Dmitry Rogozin

Our partners