Russians Say N(ot)yet to Reusable Rockets

Roscosmos_logoIt looks as if Roscosmos will not be following Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos down the road of reusable rockets. Instead, the newly privatized company will spend the next decade developing a new medium-lift launch vehicle that will serve as the foundation of a super-heavy booster.

That’s the word on the latest draft of Russia’s incredibly shrinking space budget. With its revenues battered by low oil prices, the government has cut back planned spending for 2016-2025 from 2 trillion rubles ($24.4 billion) to 1.4 trillion rubles ($17.1 billion). The government might allocate an additional 115 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) after 2021, TASS reports.

Reuters reports the sharp cutback has forced the postponement of several major initiatives designed to revive the country’s struggling space program, including an effort to produce a reusable rocket.

“Russia is certain to implement this project, but at the moment the launch of a booster rocket with a reusable first stage is not economically viable,” local media cited [Roscomos General Director Igor] Komarov as saying. He did not elaborate.

A Roscosmos spokesman told Reuters the agency would return to the matter after 2025.

One program that did survive the budget cutbacks largely unscathed is the Phoenix rocket. TASS reports:

Under the new federal space program, the work to develop a medium-class new-generation space and rocket system (the Phoenix project) will begin from 2018. The Phoenix rocket is designed to deliver a payload of up to 17 tonnes to a low orbit (including as part of a manned flight program) and up to 2.5 tonnes to a geostationary orbit with the help of a booster.

The experimental tests of the rocket’s key elements are expected to be completed on the ground in 2025.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said in late December that Russia had started work to create a super-heavy rocket with Phoenix as its first stage. This rocket will have a lifting capacity of over 100 tonnes.

A source in the rocket and space industry earlier told TASS that Phoenix was considered as scientific and technical groundwork for developing a new carrier rocket for a manned flight program with the dimensions of the Zenit rocket.

The budget for the new booster has been set at 29.3 billion rubles ($358 million) under the latest draft of Roscosmos’ 10-year spending plan.