The Future of the Russian Space Agency
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012
by AJ Plunkett
There are plans afoot to explore Mars and the Moon — and maybe even to get private enterprise to help pay for it. Who’s spearheading these grand plans?
Well, we know it’s not NASA. It was well publicized that NASA had to abandon sending another astronaut to the Moon a couple of years ago, and the budget for next year could curtail any manned Mars missions. Instead, NASA’s considering sending humans on an asteroid mission in the next 10 years or so. The Agency will do this while concentrating on finishing the James Webb Space Telescope, and developing manned spacecraft to travel to the International Space Station and back. That being said, Mars may be in option later. But not for a long while.
So, who is behind plans to venture to the Moon and Mars? That would be Russia’s Federal Space Agency, also known as Roscosmos.
While Russian space chief Vladimir Popovkin has been talking about involving private businesses in space projects for over a year, a fuller outline of the nation’s plans were unveiled this spring in Kommersant (Russia’s online business daily) and cited in several other publications.
The plan includes possible manned missions to the Moon and Mars, efforts to clean up space debris, and an increase in observation satellites. This modernization plan also calls for the construction of a new launch facility in the eastern part of the country.
Countries Vie for Space
The goal of course is to bolster Russia’s standing in the global space community at a time when the world is seeing surges in space activity by various nations, including Japan, China, Brazil, and India.
Just this summer, on June 16, China sent its first female astronaut into space along with two male astronauts. The momentous occasion aside, they undertook the mission in order to test systems aboard an orbiting space module — one that China says it plans to transform into a space station.
In May, Russia’s Popovkin told the Global Space Exploration Conference that his agency hoped to establish permanent bases on the moon. India also claimed an interest in Moon exploration at the same conference.
While the Russian Space Agency leaders have talked of partnering with the European Space Agency on various projects, the Agency also hopes to pay for its future plans with state and private funding.
Russia’s Silicon Valley
With a potential global market estimated at between $300 billion and $400 billion a year, space-related ventures certainly pique the interest of private Russian business leaders, said Serge Zhukov, Head of Space Technology at the planned Skolkovo Innovaton Center. It’s no wonder then that a high-tech business park is being built just outside Moscow — a business center that has been called Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley.
In an interview with Russia Behind the Headlines, Zhukov explained that while there is interest in private sector investment in space, there remains confusion among business leaders about how to work with the federal space agency. Russia has no legislation so far on commercial space activities, he said. “Private interests simply do not understand what rules to play by,” he added.
But with so much money on the table, one could expect Russian legislators and private business leaders to quickly come to an understanding.
AJ Plunkett is a freelance writer in Virginia with experience in covering defense and aerospace industries as well as the military. AJ blogs via Contently.com.