Through Hardship to the Stars: A Review of Russia’s Space Startup Sector

Credit: Roscomos

Translated from Russian by Google Translate

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — What space startups were buzzing around in 2021? What ups and downs has the private astronautics market experienced? The most interesting and important things were collected by the editor of ” Russian Space ” Igor Afanasyev.

In the forefront

An unequivocal success in 2021 – the Russian private company “Satellite Innovative Space Systems” (“Sputnix”). Operating in the market for small spacecraft weighing from 1 kg to 200 kg, it creates nano- and microsatellites, components and space technologies. In the last year alone, Sputniks has launched five nano-class spacecraft and manufactured eleven satellites as part of the Space-π educational project.

Over the years, we managed to create a close-knit team of like-minded people capable of solving the most difficult problems. Today Sputniks is developing the Pallada microsatellite platform for spacecraft weighing 80–100 kg.

It is curious that in August 2021 the company was acquired by the SITRONICS Group (a subsidiary of AFK Sistema), which implements digital projects for the state and business. Experts consider this to be a good precedent for the domestic market. After the purchase, the parent company plans to develop digital services based on data from LEO satellites and provide them to a wide range of customers.

At the International Space Congress IAC-2021 in Dubai, the company demonstrated the SXC6 nanosatellite platform for Earth observation, which provides the creation of modern “six” cubesats for various purposes. OrbiKraft – Zorkiy, made on the basis of this platform and carrying an experimental camera with a resolution of up to six meters per pixel, has been operating in orbit since March 2021.

One of the first Russian rocket startups, Lin Industrial (a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation’s space cluster), set itself the task of developing an ultralight Taimyr rocket for launching small spacecraft weighing up to 180 kg. The plans of the company, founded in 2014 by Alexander Ilyin, included a number of launch vehicles, booster blocks and engines. In 2020, Lin Industrial was able to conduct bench tests of an oxygen-methane engine running on gaseous components. In the meantime, after the departure of one of the key private investors, active activity in this direction was suspended. Now the company is solving design problems in the field of applied astronautics.

On the rise

Success Rockets launch vehicle. (Credit: Roscosmos)

The Success Rockets startup, registered in 2020 by Oleg Mansurov, in 2021 managed to attract investments in the amount of 310 million rubles.

The team is currently working on projects for the Nebo suborbital meteorological rocket, the Stalker ultra-light space carrier and three satellite platforms – SKIBR-CUBE, SKIBR-MICRO and SKIBR-MINI. There are also two small space tugs under development – Strannik-1 and −2. The company plans to build a private cosmodrome in Dagestan.

Success Rockets intends to create a global climate monitoring system. The space part of the system will be a constellation of several dozen satellites. It is planned to launch a test model of the Diana satellite already in 2022.

Of course, in addition to those listed, there are other private companies in the country that are “rushing into space.” It should be admitted that most of them are far from the level of similar American or Chinese developers. So far, they are not launching their own rockets and spacecraft, but are striving to occupy their own niche in the space services market.

Disappointment

Alas, not all space startups survived 2021. In April, Pavel Pushkin, founder and CEO of Kosmokurs, announced the closure of his company. In 2014–2021 the firm was working on a project for a manned rocket and space system for suborbital tourist flights. There were other projects in her portfolio as well. 

In particular, Kosmokurs developed light and ultralight class carriers and in 2021 acted as a competitor to the Progress RSC and the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center in the competition announced by Roscosmos for the creation of the Amur-LNG methane rocket.

Despite the fact that the company’s personnel consisted of professional rocket scientists and followed strictly the official path, trying, among other things, to find and agree on a place for the construction of a private cosmodrome – in the Republic of Tatarstan, and then in the Nizhny Novgorod region – it did not work out.

In addition, the financial costs for the main work of Kosmokurs turned out to be higher than planned. By agreement with the investor, it was decided to stop all projects. According to media reports, some of the company’s employees have moved to enterprises within the perimeter of Roskosmos, and are working on projects for launch vehicles.

It cannot be said that “the detachment did not notice the loss of a soldier”. Both observers and experts note with regret the termination of the activities of Kosmokurs.