Medvedev Wants Vigorous Deep Space Exploration Program, But Where Are the Rubles?

Russia should have its own deep space program – Medvedev

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev believes that Russia should develop its own program for the exploration of deep space in general and the Moon in particular. “I think this is a very important topic, even in terms of our scientific ambitions. If we fail to address it at all, we shall degrade and will be pushed to the sidelines,” the president said at a meeting with young scientists on Tuesday.

Medvedev admitted that he could not promise such a program would be ready in one year’s time, “which would let us catch up with the Americans.”

The president added that the topic was a subject matter for research by experts in Europe and China. “Everybody is willing to get in space, it is necessary to understand just where our place in space and on the Moon is,” the head of state said.

The lack of a Russian deep space exploration program was raised by the winner of the presidential award in science for young scientists, Maxim Mokrousov, from the Institute for Space Studies. “It’s no secret that all countries have set eyes on the Moon, the exploration of the Moon will begin for certain,” he said. Medvedev agreed with the scientist: “No doubt.” However, Mokrousov is concerned that for Russia there may be not enough space on the Moon, because there are “just four or five normal landing sites.”

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Editor’s Note: Rebuilding Russia’s space program has been a priority for both Medvedev and Vladimir Putin because it is a high-tech enterprise that earns money from abroad and recalls past Soviet-era glories. The government is spending billions of dollars on the new Vostochny spaceport, two new rockets (Rus-M and Angara), a six-person Soyuz replacement, the GLONASS navigational system, and other projects. It is also beginning to get back into the planetary exploration game with planned probes to Mars and the moon.

One of the problems they face, however, is that many of these projects are, to varying degrees, responses to the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 20 years ago. The new spaceport and the Angara rocket are part of an effort to make Russia independent in space by reducing reliance on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and Ukrainian rockets. GLONASS is a Soviet-era project that ran out of money; it will finally provide full global coverage later this year. Rus-M and the new Soyuz is largely a response to U.S. plans to explore beyond LEO.

These are essentially infrastructure projects that are, by their very nature, very expensive and time consuming. The enormous effort and money required to complete them tend to limit the ability to actually do things in space. Without much larger increases in the budget, it may not be until later in the decade when the spaceport and rocket development are completed that Russia will be able to pursue a vigorous deep space exploration program. At that point, the Russian space program will have fully recovered from the collapse of the Soviet one.