Russia’s replacement for the Proton rocket costs too much

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin visits the construction site of the launch pad for the Angara family rocket thrusters at the Vostochny Cosmodrome.
Enlarge / / Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin visits the construction site of the launch pad for the Angara family rocket thrusters at the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Yegor AleyevTASS via Getty Images

In recent months, the Russian space industry has talked about a good game about its plans to develop new rockets to compete on the international stage.

One of the country’s most famous rocket engine manufacturers, NPO Energomash, announced that it was working on the development of a large methane-powered rocket engine, called RD-0177. This engine was part of an overall plan for a “new generation” of rockets. The work comes as three American rocket companies, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Blue Origin, are building their next-generation rockets around methane engines.

Additionally, Russian officials have continued to talk about the development of the Soyuz 5 rocket, a medium-lift rocket that is supposed to provide affordable access to space. This booster has been linked to the Sea Launch floating spaceport, as well as human launches in the mid-2020s.

However, Ivan Moiseev, head of the Russian Space Policy Institute, said these projects are best viewed as “paper rockets,” lacking the funds to become real hardware.

“In fact, we do not have a clear and understandable strategy for space travel, and huge problems have accumulated within the Russian space industry,” he said in an interview with online newspaper Vzglyad (Robinson Mitchell provided a translation of this article). “Right now, Roscosmos is introducing all kinds of new paper rocket projects, but only those that will stay on paper and never materialize.”

These futuristic rocket project announcements are likely to work well domestically, fueling Russia’s image as a superpower. But the real future of Russia’s rocket program looks less than bright.

Waiting for Angara

For decades, to deliver large payloads into space and compete for international launch contracts, Russia relied primarily on the Proton rocket. Debuting in the 1960s, this booster had a base price of approximately $ 65 million, which was competitive with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster. But it has had reliability problems in recent times, and about 15 years ago, the Russian government decided to develop the “Angara 5” rocket to replace the Proton rocket.

The Angara 5 rocket has flown once, in 2014, placing a 2-ton mass simulator in geosynchronous orbit. But due to a number of factors, including costs, production issues, and lack of demand, the Angara 5 rocket has not flown since. However, the Angara 5 rocket is slated to take over the more modestly priced Proton rocket for years to come.

Russia’s state news service TASS reported Monday that efforts are underway to reduce the price of the Angara 5 rocket from more than $ 100 million per launch to $ 57 million by 2024. These cost savings would come along with production. Serial rocket instead of Single Production.

But Russian industry observers continue to distrust these official statements. “Angara has no chance of successful competition,” said Andrey Ionin, a member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics. On Russia’s plan to cut costs for the Angara 5 rocket, Ionin said: “This is an attempt to bombard real events with informational junk.” “You don’t think the rocket can be competitive with the reusable Falcon 9 rocket.

The reality seems to be that Russia following The rocket costs much more than the rocket it is replacing, the Proton. This comes at a time when international price competition, led by SpaceX but joined by Japan’s H3 drivers and Europe’s Ariane 6, is hotter than ever.