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05 May 2016

Russian flag in the wind – are we going to see Russian reusable rocket ?

After negation at the beginning, through doubts on economic sense of reusability to full enthusiasm – it is change in Russian opinions on SpaceX and Blue Origin reusability attempts.

Representatives of Russian space industry are recently often changing their mind in some cases. After successes of Blue Origin and SpaceX in attempts of implementing reusable technology to their rockets, Russian scientists and representatives of state space industry started to undermine purpose and economic sense of implementing such technology in rocket launch vehicle. For example on 1 February, according to Tass news agency, Russia’s Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash) spokesman claimed:

“The economic feasibility of reusable launch systems is not obvious. First and foremost it will depend on how often launches will be made. At the moment it is hard to forecast which way the market of launch services will go when reusable space rockets become available. The designers are still to demonstrate the real costs of production and of making reusable stages for re-launching,”

It was quite strange, because in case of Blue Origin such sense is undoubted. In case of space touristic, when key to success is low cost and high frequency of flights, lower cost of implementing reusable technology than manufacturing new rocket for every mission is something obvoius and crucial. Blue Origin reusability is also much simpler than in case of SpaceX; but again if it would not be profitable it would not be adopted by SpaceX. Russian private segment in space industry also did not consider reusable technology as potentially interesting to develop what even was justified due lower costs of manufacturing rocket in Russia than in USA. It is worth to mention that it is hard to clearly identify which companies are state and which are fully private, but still there was no any enthusiasm for idea.

According to Tass news agency, Russian private company KosmoKurs is working on reusable launch vehicle designed especially for space tourism. Director of KosmoKurs, Pavel Pushkin, stated on 4 March 2016:

“Our technical design specification was approved by Roscosmos two days ago. The system’s preliminary design will be created with this document,”

It seems that there is little change after statement of Igor Komarov, chief of the Roscosmos from 25 December 2015 developing reusable technology was put into 2016-2025 plan but not in first three years for sure. Now, idea from private company has support of chief of Roscosmos without any reservations – it is very surprising for sure. Unfortunately additional information about reusable launch vehicle by KosmoKurs was not filled with details. Proposed launch vehicle was mentioned to be available for space tourists and will offer reaching altitude of 200 km with six passengers onboard. Flight will take around 15 minutes while zero gravity conditions will last for at least 5 minutes; maximal g force for passengers will be 5G. Capsule (in the opposition to fully automatic New Shepard offered by Blue Origin) will be steered by one of passengers. First test flight is planned for 2018 and regular commercial missions are scheduled for 2020 and price for the ticket will be in range of 0000-0000 (based on estimations from 2014).

Whole venture with reusable launch vehicle for suborbital commercial flights for space tourist is not first idea by KosmoKurs. In 2014 Pavel Pushkin, CEO of  KosmoKurs (which is member of Skolkovo Foundation founded in 2010 and charged by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev) announced about developing new space shuttle for commercial touristic flights. Prices were also settled for 0000-0000. Flight of new shuttle would last few hours (multiple times more than planned by KosmoKurs nowadays) and landing would be performed about 20 km from start site on ordinary runway. It was also mentioned that advanced rescue system will be designed to set security level as high as in regular aircraft flights. KosmoKurs is not big company – in 2014 it employed eight persons involved in many different space projects in Russia (according to Pavel Pushkin); project of new Russian space shuttle was sponsored (again according to Pavel Pushkin) by not known from the name Russian industrialists.

On picture above You can see first place in space visited by pay-per-space astronaut – Mir space station.