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The Space Industry in Russia

The recent (December 2005) spate of news about Russia's space program was decidedly mixed. According to Space News, the 17-country European Space Agency (ESA) declined to participate in Russia's $60 million, two-year Clipper manned and winged space vehicle program, a touted alternative to NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle. With an anual budget of $800 million, the Russian Federal Space Agency sought to minimize the importance of this surprising turnabout. In a press conference, Nikolay Sevastiyanov, President of the Russian aerospace contractor RSC-Energia, said: "We're starting to design this new transportation system to support the International Space Station (ISS) once it's complete." A space tug, dubbed Parom, will tow the Clipper to the ISS. But this is not the whole truth.

The Clipper - a combined crew and cargo vehicle - is at the heart of Russia's renewed attempt to land crafts on the moon and on Mars. The Clipper is the culmination of a decade of research, development, and geopolitical maneuvering, involving many other elements. Consider the "Volga". It is the name of a new liquid-fueled retrievable and reusable (up to 50 times) booster-rocket engine. It will be built by two Russian missile manufacturers for a consortium of French, German, and Swedish aerospace firms.

ESA - the European Space Agency - intends to invest 1 billion euros over 10-15 years in this new toy. This is a negligible sum in an $80 billion a year market. Russian rockets, such as the Soyuz U and Tsiklon, have been launching satellites to orbit for decades now and not only for the Russian defense ministry, their erstwhile exclusive client. Communications satellites, such as Gonets D1 ("Courier" or "Messenger"), and other commercial loads are gradually overtaking their military observation, navigation, and communications brethren. The Strategic Rocket Forces alone have earned more than $100 million from commercial launches between 1997-9, reports "Kommersant", the Russian business daily. Still, many civilian satellites are not much more than stripped military bodices. Commercial operators and Rosaviakosmos (Russia's NASA) report to the newly re-established (June 2001) Russian Military Space Forces. Technology gained in collaborative efforts with the West is immediately transferred to the military. Russia is worried by America's lead in space. The USA has 600 satellites to Russia's 100 (mostly obsolete) birds, according to space.

com. The revival of US plans for an anti-missile shield and the imminent, unilateral, and inevitable American withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty add urgency to Russian scrambling to catch up. Despite well-publicized setbacks - such as the ominous crash at Baikonur in Kazakhstan in July 1999 - Russian launchers are among the most reliable there are. Fifty-seven of 59 launch attempts were successful last year. By comparison, in 1963, only 55 out of 70 launch attempts met the same happy fate. American aerospace multinationals closely collaborate with Rosaviakosmos. Boeing maintains a design office in Russia to monitor joint projects such as the commercial launch pad Sea Launch and the ISS. It employs hundreds of Russian professionals in and out of Russia. There is also an emerging collaboration with the European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS) company as well as with Arianespace, the French group. A common launch pad is taking shape in Kourou and the Soyuz is now co-owned by Russians and Europeans through Starsem, a joint venture.

Russia also intends to participate in the hitherto dormant European RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) project. The EU's decision, in the 2002 Barcelona summit, to give "Galileo" the go ahead, would require close cooperation with Russia. "Galileo" is a $3 billion European equivalent of the American GPS network of satellites. It will most likely incorporate Russian technology, use Russian launch facilities, and employ Russian engineers. This collaboration may well revive Russia's impoverished and, therefore, moribund space program with an infusion of more than $2 billion over the next decade. But America and Europe are not the only ones queuing at Russia's doorstep. Stratfor, the Strategic Forecasting firm, reported about a deal concluded in May 2001 between the Australian Ministry of Industry, Science and Resources and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency. Australian companies were granted exclusive rights to use the Russian Aurora rocket outside Russia. In return, Russia will gain access to the ideally located launch site at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. This is a direct blow to competitors such as India, South Korea, Japan, China, and Brazil.

Russian launch technology is very advanced and inexpensive, being based, as it is, on existing military R&D. It has been licensed to other space-aspiring countries. India's troubled Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) is based on Russian technology, reports Stratfor. Many private satellite launching firms - Australian and others - find Russian offerings commercially irresistible. Russia - unlike the US - places no restrictions on the types of load launched to space with its rockets. Still, launch technologies are simple matters. Until 1995, Russia launched more loads annually than the rest of the world combined - despite its depleted budget (less than Brazil's). But Russia's space shuttle program, the Energia-Buran, was its last big investment in R&D. It was put to rest in 1988.


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