The head of Russia’s civilian space program seems to be increasingly detached from reality. In recent months Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, has given a series of interviews in which he has made all sorts of big promises about the supposedly bright future of Russia’s space program.
For example, in an interview published just today, Rogozin made the fantastic claim that his country’s space program has the technical means to reach Mars and land astronauts there within eight to 10 years. If Russia is willing to fund such a plan, Rogozin guaranteed that Roscosmos is ready to offer.
Russia, Rogozin also said recently, is ready to reuse better than SpaceX and the United States. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, he said, is only “semi-reusable”, and Russia aspires to build a 21st century rocket capable of 100 flights. He then reiterated that Russia would like to develop a version of its Soyuz rocket that has a methane fuel engine.
SpaceX has flown five of its rockets in the first phase of the Falcon 9, and plans to push toward reusing each booster 10 times. It is not clear what, if any, steps Russia has taken towards reuse. The reality is that Russia depends on reliable technology but decades old to enter space. And while Rogozin talks a good game about sending his cosmonauts to the Moon or Mars, and about competing with SpaceX on reusable rockets, that seems to be mostly bitter.
Budget cuts ahead
Roscosmos has a relatively weak budget to carry out its activities in civil space. Its funding for civic programs in 2020 is $ 176 billion, equivalent to $ 2.4 billion; that’s about one-tenth of NASA’s funding level. Moreover, there are reports that the Russian Ministry of Finance wants to significantly reduce Roscosmos’s budget, by 20 billion rubles a year for the next three years.
According to a source in the Russian space industry, this 11 percent reduction would affect “funding the creation of new launch vehicles and advanced space technologies.” This means that Roscosmos may not have funding for any of the types of programs that Rogozin is talking about effectively.
In a revealing interview with The Wall Street Journal published this weekend, a Siberian-born physicist named Mikhail Kokorich talked about how he escaped Putin’s Russia after co-founder Dauria Aerospace in 2011. Dauria was the first private space company to established in Russia, but the Soviet-era approach there proved too heavy, Kokorich said. After moving to the United States, he founded Momentus Space.
Kokorich offered this notable, first-hand assessment of national importance in space: “The US is definitely number one, then the European Union, then China,” he said. “Next, I think India is now comparable to Russia, and perhaps even more advanced than Russia in a broader sense.”