Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law to consolidate the nation’s space industry under the control of a revamped Roscosmos as officials eye export sales to China as a way to offset budget cuts in the nation’s space program.
The law will combine the United Rocket and Space Corporation with Roscosmos, which will become a state corporation. The new company will be led by former auto industry executive Igor Komarov.
Government officials have criticized the failure-prone Russian space industry as being bloated and inefficient. The nation’s dominance in the launch sector is facing a significant challenge from U.S.-based SpaceX. The re-nationalization of the industry is designed to address these problems.
Komarov said Roscosmos wants to increase exports in order to offset cuts that have been made in federal expenditures due to Russia’s deep economic problems.
“One of the state corporation’s goals that was set by the government was the decrease of budget expenditures by increasing export potential of space production. We are now working on export that will allow us to decrease budget expenditures in reforming the industry,” Komarov said.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Russia is in talks with China about a range of products and services, including those useful in China’s efforts to explore the moon.
“We are talking about urgently preparing the most complex intergovernmental agreements that will outline the issue of maintaining Russia’s intellectual property on most high-technology production which will be sold in China. These are, first of all, rocket engines. China displays great interest in this issue,” Rogozin said.
The export sales could involve rocket engines. Due to deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia, United Launch Alliance has been ordered to phase out the use of Russian RD-180 engines in its Atlas V booster.
Russian and Chinese officials also are discussing the possible sale of Sea Launch, which is majority owned by the RSC Energia. The company launches Zenit-3SL rockets from an ocean-going platform that is towed to the equator.
The floating platform and command ship are docked in Long Beach, Calif. Under a deal, they would be moved to a Chinese port.
A sale to China would need to traverse a minefield of regulatory and political issues in Russia, China and the United States. Sea Launch is headquartered in Bern, Switzerland, but its home port is Long Beach, California.
The Sea Launch Zenit-3SL rocket is built by state-owned Ukrainian and Russian manufacturers, with Boeing acting as the company’s original prime contractor. Sorting out the effects of U.S. technology-transfer restrictions relating to satellite and rocket hardware – the International Traffic in Arms (ITAR) regime – would be complicated, officials said.
The situation likely would not be simple in China, either, where the Chinese Long March rocket family has demonstrated a reliable track record based almost exclusively on China’s domestic demand. China is denied access to most of the commercial market because ITAR rules forbid any U.S. satellite parts from being exported to China.
How far ITAR would reach into the operations of a mainly Russian-Ukrainian vehicle launched from international waters under Chinese ownership is unknown.
Sea Launch has struggled throughout its history with low sales and a number of high-profile failures. The company is currently on a hiatus between launches.