The head of the Russian space agency, Yuri Borisov, discussed his country’s future prospects in space on Tuesday at the International Astronautical Conference. He spoke passionately about Russia’s plans to build a new space station in low-earth orbit, the Russian Orbital Station, and other initiatives.
“We are expecting to design, manufacture, and launch several modules by 2027,” Borisov said through a translator at the conference, which took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, this year. Sessions of the conference are underway live streaming on YouTube.
This space station will be placed in a polar orbit, Borisov added, allowing it to observe the entire atmosphere. Its purpose will be to test new materials, new technologies, and new drugs. “It will be like a laboratory that works forever,” he said.
Megaconstellations and nuclear tugs, too
During the discussion, Borisov added that Russia is still hard at work on the “Sfera” megaconstellation to satisfy the country’s huge demand for communications. This integration will include the ability to provide direct-to-cell communications, which means that some of these satellites will be very large. Such projects cost billions of dollars at least to get off the ground.
In a PowerPoint slide that followed Borisov’s presentation, Roscosmos made another announcement, even bigger visions. The slide shows a nuclear-powered deep space vehicle called “Nuklon” and two “prospective” launch vehicles named Amur-LNG and Korona.
It may all have looked and sounded good on the world stage, but the presentation has something of a Potemkin village concept, which refers to the fake villages that were built to impress Russian Empress Catherine the Great over the past two decades. . Put another way, most (if not all) of the presentation is based on vaporware rather than hardware.
Shortly before Borisov took the stage, Russian media sources revealed that the country’s budget for space activities was due to drop over the next two years—rather than rising to meet the challenge of ambitious new space programs. these.
According to an article in Lenta.Rutranslated by Rob Mitchell, Russia’s space project budget estimated for 2024 will have 285.95 billion rubles ($2.88 billion), followed by 271.91 billion rubles ($2.74 billion) in 2025 and 258.1 billion rubles ($2.6 billion US) in 2026. The article states that “budget allocations will be specifically aimed at advancing the financing of investment projects for the Russian space and rocket industry and for the activities of the Roscosmos State Corporation.”
Less money to build more things? Maybe not.
From Russia, with doubt
No one doubts Russia’s ability to build space stations, as the country has a long history of meeting successful orbital targets. However, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has struggled to build new equipment for aviation services. Both his Nauka space station module and the Luna 25 spacecraft that recently crashed into the Moon were essentially mothballed projects built many years ago.
The idea that Russia will now build a new space station and launch it within the next four years on a reduced budget is even more difficult to understand in the current situation. The country’s primary focus is funding and its reckless war against Ukraine, and as the history of the space budget has shown, resources for the space program may decrease rather than increase.
Every proposed project beyond space seems even more fanciful. Consider the Amur and Korona rockets, for example. Russia has been talking publicly about the reusable “Amur” rocket for three years now. It is similar to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and is intended to have a reusable first stage. But it is clear that zero progress has been made towards actual application development.
As for the Korona rocket shown on Borisov’s slide, who knows? It probably refers to it a single-stage-to-orbit rocket first conceived of 30 years ago when NASA and McDonnell Douglas were working on the DC-X launch vehicle in the United States. The idea that Russia will build on this plan and actually develop spaceflight equipment is not “prospective,” as the Roscosmos slide claims. Rather, it is preposterous.