Private Russian Startups Pursue New Launcher, Space Tourism Vehicle

Two-stage Aldan rocket. (Credit: Lin Industrial)
Two-stage Aldan rocket. (Credit: Lin Industrial)

Even as Vladimir Putin and his merry band of bureaucrats and oligarchs are busy re-nationalizing the Russian space industry under the control of one fully-owned government company, there is some sign of independent entrepreneurial life within the nation’s space effort.

Start-up companies have sprouted up to launch satellites and to pursue small satellite launch vehicles and space tourism systems. All of these companies appear to be nurtured by a government created and run incubator called Skolkovo that is designed to be Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley.

This week, Russian media have spotlighted two companies developing new systems. One is called Lin Industrial, which is pursuing the development of an ultra-light rocket that is designed to send payloads weighing up to 100 kg into low Earth orbit.

Pravda reports that Sergei Burkatovsky, who co-created of the popular online game World of Tanks, has decided to invest five to 10 million rubles in Lin Industrial. That might sound like a lot, but it’s actually only $88,335 to $176,770.

Lin Industrial officials say they need approximately $200,000 in investment to produce a prototype first-stage prototype rocket. The company would need up to $13.5 million to get the launch vehicle to its first flight.

Another Russian space start-up is KosmoKurs, which says it is working on a reusable spacecraft for space tourism flights that would cost low low price of only $200,000 to $250,000 per person. KosmoKurs Director General Pavel Pushkin expects test flights to begin in 2018, with the first commercial missions two years later.

Although Pushkin doesn’t describe the system, TASS reports the flights would last 20 minutes and the vehicle would land about 20 km (12 miles) from the launch site. That would appear to indicate a suborbital ballistic trajectory.

Pushkin says he has the backing of a domestic investor whom he declined to name.

Both Lin Industrial and KosmoKurs are located at Skolkovo, a business innovation center located outside of Moscow. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spearheaded development of the government-built and run incubator after he visited Silicon Valley several years ago.

Skolkovo is innovation in the Russian tradition. Instead of creating broad conditions where entrepreneurs could thrive (rule of law, good investment climate, independent judiciary, etc.), Medvedev decided to centralize innovation in a government-owned incubator.

Skolkovo supports work in five sectors: space, information technology, biomedical, energy and nuclear.

Dauria Aerospace, which has been developing satellite systems, is the most successful space company to come out of Skolkovo. It was the first fully private space company established in Russia and the first to sign a public-private partnership with the Russian space agency Roscosmos.