Interview: Roscosmos Boss Speaks on Space Tourism, Priorities and Agency Restructuring

Roscosmos has posted the transcript of an interview that Vladimir Popovkin gave to the Russian newspaper Kommersant. The space agency chief touches on a wide range of issues, including space tourism, the budget, the restructuring of Roscosmos and the Russian space industry, and the future of the Angara rocket.

The highlights, translated from Russian:

Space Tourism

  • Popovkin views human spaceflight as worthwhile if it produced practical results. “If a person just wants to go to orbit, I believe this is an inefficient activity.”
  • On increasing annual Soyuz production to five spacecraft in order to fly space tourists: “Space tourism must be carried out on extra money. If the corporation Energia or any other corporation, or tourists themselves, will be able to find them [extra funds] and build a ship, then such tourism has the right to exist. Space tourism at the expense of the budget – it’s not space tourism…..This idea will be developed…We [Roscosmos] are for space tourism, but first create a business plan, and we will help take out loans. But there is no reflection of the state program of this issue should not be.”

The Budget

  • Roscosmos has seen a significant budget boost to $2.3 billion, but space spending is actually $3.38 billion when one takes into account the separately funded GLONASS navigational constellation, a program to modernize the military-industrial complex, and several other programs aimed at improving the national technological base and developing new systems.
  • Roscosmos could always use a higher budget, but the main programs have sufficient funds.
  • The agency will need annual boosts of 4-6 percent from 2013-2020 to keep up with inflation.

Key Programmatic Priorities

  • Roscosmos “plans to significantly increase the share of funding for projects aimed at creating a satellite-based communications, navigation, remote sensing, as well as the creation of meteorological aids….Given the geography of our country, satellite technology, should be key, especially in terms of communication, for example, access to the Internet.”
  • The Soyuz spacecraft replacement will begin flight tests in2018 and have two variants: a six-person vehicle to transport crews to and from the International Space Station, and a four-person variant designed for individual flights of up to 30 days.
  • The new Angara rocket family, which is set to debut in 2013, will replace the older Proton rocket. Popovkin says Angara will enter commercial service not earlier than 2017-2018 period. The rocket will fly from Baikonur and the new Vostochny spaceport.
  • The Vostochny spaceport in the Far East, set to open in the middle of the decade, will cost approximately $8.4 billion to construct.

Roscosmos Restructuring

  • Popovkin hints strongly at layoffs when he discusses a major restructuring of Roscosmos to make it leaner and more efficient. “It will create several new offices. The process is nearing completion, and the agency will pay particular attention to the management of organizations operating in the structure of the Russian Space Agency, the property set of issues, corporate governance.…This process coincided with the decision of the Russian Government to reduce civil servants by 20% to 2013: 5% will be reduced in 2011-2012, and 10% – in 2013.”

Industry Consolidation

  • Russia will continue to consolidate its sprawling and inefficient space sector into a smaller number of joint stock corporations. “The first phase of this optimization Roskosmos already passed by constructing holdings on the vertical lines. The next step – to connect the vertical holding each other. To start the optimization of the horizontal. It now will be done.”
  • Current priorities include the creation of the Comet and Iosifyan joint stock companies. The Khrunichev consortium will be expanded and a new company established based on CDB heavy machinery. “In general, at the end of the year there should be 14 integrated companies, covering more than 50% of the industry. Then we will plan further changes.”