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.

  • Vladislaw

    Man if there is a flight from traditional Russian launch companies to new start ups they will lucky to launch another proton et cetera.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Ilyin (Lin) was well-known on the Internet and appears to be a serious rocket guy, albeit with some very old-fashioned ideas about the humanity role in space. His Internet presence reminds that of our Clark Lindsey, except Lin actually builds rockets.

    Pushkin is an unknown quality. He says that he was made to reveal his presence about 4 months too early (presumably by disclosure rules at Skolkovo), and that is why he has nothing to show the world. We don’t even know if this mini-shuttle VTVL, VTHL, or airlaunch.

    Dauria is the most serious player in the sense that they want to survive and be successful in space. They principally decided not to meddle with launch vehicles, and they already had built a working satellite (of course it does AIS – and who doesn’t).

  • Mahound

    I think the term “merry band of bureaucrats and oligarchs” is more suitable to the US head of state. Obama has taken on far more bureaucrats than Putin has, and the number of super-rich donors supporting Obama makes Putin look like a working-class hero.

    Soros, Katzenberg, Jacobs, Mostyn. Putin could only dream of having such oligarchs financing him.

  • Anton Antonov

    >the term “merry band of bureaucrats and oligarchs” is more suitable to the US head of state
    Probably suitable. But i’m sure the ‘more’ word is wrong here. The whole economy is under control of Putin’s friends, good old neighborhoods and even judo trainer. I mean literally. For example, Chemezov (Putin’s friend in KGB in 1980s) now controls space industry via united state corporation ORKK.

  • Mahound

    And we’re probably about to have either the third Bush or the second Clinton.

  • Douglas Messier

    False equivalency. None of Obama’s supporters have the type of control over the economy that Putin and his colleagues do.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    So, Komarov is a figurehead, then? That’s pretty Byzantine.

  • Douglas Messier

    I found a listing for a Pavel Pushkin saying he was formerly with Khrunichev. Do you know if that’s the same person?

  • Anton Antonov

    I dont know. I guess he isn’t nominal. It means he have a right to make a decisions. But Komarov is one of Chemezov’s band. And he provides Chevezov’s interests. The ultimate beneficiary of ORKK is Chemezov, it’s quite notoriously. And this spring/summer he personally negotiated Kovalchuk (another Putin’s friend, you know) about control of the RSC Energia. Cause Kovalchuk have about 20% of it and Lopota is Kovalchuk’s guy. The conversation was successful for Ch. But we don’t know terms of the deal.

    Nowadays in Russia nominal ownership isn’t important. So Kovalchuk can keep his shares in RSC. Ch. controls the board of directors is RSC and it means he controls financial flows and profit. It’s true for all state corporations. For example, Sechin (another Putin’s friend, what a surprise) is ultimate beneficiary of nominally-state company Rosneft. Rosneft don’t have profit and don’t pay dividends. But the company spends billions dollars every year for a small unknown and dubious ‘charity’ foundations with strange names like ‘Hunting union of some-unit-of-FSB veterans’.

  • Anton Antonov

    Yep.