Putin, Justinian and the Revival of Empire

Mosaic of Emperor Justinian I in the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. (Credit: By Petar Milošević – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40035957)

After decades of relative peace, a full-scale war has broken out in Europe with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Angered by the former Soviet republic’s efforts to integrate with Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin has rolled the dice and unleashed hell on his nation’s neighbor.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but there are patterns that echo down through time. Sixteen centuries ago, another European leader launched a similar invasion designed to restore past glories. He succeeded — to a point.

All this has Happened Before

In late June 533, an expeditionary force under the command of Gen. Flavius Balisarius set sail from the Eastern Roman Empire capital of Constantinople. After a voyage of several months along the coasts of Greece and Italy, the force landed at Caputvada on the North Africa coast in early September.

The expeditionary force’s target was the Vandal Kingdom, centered in the former Roman capital of North Africa, Carthage. Emperor Justinian I had dispatched the expedition with two objectives in mind, one short term and limited, the other expansive and long term.

The Vandals had been part of a wave of barbarian tribes that, pushed out of their homelands by marauding Huns, had overrun the Western Roman Empire in the early fifth century. (The empire had split into east and west in 395, with separate capitals at Ravenna and Constantinople.) Vandals and other barbarians had crossed the Rhine, pillaged their way across Gaul (modern day France and Belgium), and seized control of Iberia (present-day Spain and Portugal). For a period, life was good as the invaders soaked up the Mediterranean sun and lives off the tax revenues that used to go to the Western Roman Empire.

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Sanctions Threaten to Derail Russian Satellite Industry

Proton rocket lifts off on July 31, 2020. (Credit: Roscosmos)

The economic sanctions imposed on Russia by Europe over the invasion of Ukraine could be a second serious blow to the Russian satellite manufacturing industry, Anatoly Zak writes at Russianspaceweb.com.

The first blow occurred after the United States imposed a ban on the export of satellite technology following the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014. Russian manufacturers, who were heavily reliant on Western technology, took a two-pronged approach: increase cooperation with Europe, and attempt to build up a domestic capability for the components they previously bought from the West.

Domestic efforts have been slow, however, and now imports from Europe have dried up due to sanctions. Zak writes:

But in 2022, the Russian communications satellite projects had hit a real wall, along with the rest of the Russian economy, after Putin’s new invasion of Ukraine. The overwhelmingly wide sanctions against the Kremlin left practically no chance for Russia to complete any of its communications satellites in the development pipeline at the time due to their dependency on Western payloads.

Conceivably, Russia could turn to China for necessary components or/and Moscow could try again developing necessary competencies inside the country, but given little signs of progress on both of those fronts in the past, it could probably take years if not decades before all the technological gaps could be closed and it would be even more difficult to do under much harsher economic conditions and export controls. It is also a question whether China would be interested in boosting strategically important industries in Russia with potential military implications or whether it would want to challenge the Western sanctions regime by putting at risk its far more important trade relations with the United States.

China’s decision on how much to help Vladimir Putin ameliorate the sanctions will go a long way to determining the future of Russia.

DLR Ceases Bilateral Cooperation with Russia

DLR Press Release

As one of the largest research organisations in Europe, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is committed to engaging in international cooperation for the benefit of society and industry. DLR employs staff from 96 countries. They stand for the peaceful coexistence of all nations and peoples. Violence should never be a means to achieve objectives of any kind. We therefore view the developments in Ukraine with grave concern and condemn Russia’s hostile actions.

DLR and the German Space Agency at DLR have been cooperating with Russian institutions on a number of research projects, in some cases with the participation of other German research organisations and universities, and international partners.

Against the backdrop of the aggressive attack on Ukraine, the DLR Executive Board is taking the following measures:

  • All collaboration activities with Russian institutions on current projects or projects in the planning stage will be terminated.
  • There will be no new projects or initiatives with institutions in Russia.

Where necessary, DLR will enter into coordination with other national and international partners.

Russia Denies OneWeb Permission to Provide Satellite Internet

F6 satellite (Credit: OneWeb)

Despite launching its broadband satellites on Russian Soyuz rockets, OneWeb has been unable to obtain permission to provide its services in that country, the BBC reports.

OneWeb, whose headquarters are in the UK, was seeking to use a certain band of radio frequencies in Russia.

However, the State Commission for Radio Frequencies has denied it permission to do so.

OneWeb has been trying to get approval for its Russian operations since 2017….

In 2017, Russia’s communications authority Roskomnadzor blocked OneWeb from offering services in the country.

UAE Cabinet Approves National Space Strategy

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Cabinet has approved a National Space Strategy to guide the UAE until 2030, The National reports.

The strategy includes 79 projects in the areas of science and space research, manufacturing, assembly and testing in addition to the commercial space service sector, Sheikh Mohammed [bin Rashid] said.

“Last year we celebrated the launch of the first satellite fully built by young Emirati engineers, and in the very near future we will see them operating international space technology centers, based in the UAE,” he said in a news release from the Cabinet office.

“We will see Emirati cadres, highly skilled and specialised in space science, achieving scientific breakthroughs that serve the entire humanity.

“We are investing in the space industry, with ambitious projects and initiatives that will benefit our citizens and contribute to key sectors of the national economy. This is an important milestone for our country, and we are aiming to become a model for countries seeking to launch ambitious space programmes.”

Meanwhile, two Emirati astronauts — Hazza Al Mansouri, 34 and Sultan Al Neyadi, 37 — are in training in Russia for a spaceflight to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in September. It has not been announced which astronaut will fly with Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and American astronaut Chris Cassidy.











DIA: Russia Sees Reliance on Space as U.S. Military’s Achilles’ Heel

Russia has focused on maintaining its own military and civil satellites on orbit and selling launch services commercially. Russia usually launches small satellites as multiple payloads on heavier rockets but sometimes uses the Rokot light-lift vehicle to launch smaller payloads into LEO. Russia’s heavy-lift vehicles are mostly used for launching into GEO or HEO. The developmental Energia SLV, designed to boost the Russian space shuttle into orbit, was discontinued in the 1980s and revived in 2016 to support proposed lunar missions. (Visualization: DIA, D3 Design)

Challenges to Security in Space
Defense Intelligence Agency
February 2019

Full Report (PDF)

Excerpts on Russia

Strategy, Doctrine, and Intent

Russian military doctrine and authoritative writings clearly articulate that Russia views space as a warfighting domain and that achieving supremacy in space will be a decisive factor in winning future conflicts. Russian military thinkers believe the importance of space will continue to expand because of the growing role of precision weapons and satellite-supported information networks in all types of conflict. Meanwhile, Russia regularly expresses concern over the weaponization of space and is pursuing legal, binding space arms control agreements to curb what it sees as U.S. weaponization of outer space.

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UAE Narrows Astronaut Candidates to 9

The Soyuz MS-07 rocket is launched with Expedition 54 Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Scott Tingle of NASA, and flight engineer Norishige Kanai of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Shkaplerov, Tingle, and Kanai will spend the next five months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The game of musical chairs for four slots in the United Arab Emirates astronaut program continues at the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).

Out of 18 candidates, nine passed the one-to-one interviews in the MBRSC and are scheduled to undergo an intensive assessment in Russia by experts from Roscosmos.

Once the assessment is completed, the UAE will be choose the first Emirati astronaut corps out of four Emirati astronauts. The tests will be conducted by experts from Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, and will include intensive medical and physical tests to ensure that candidates are ready for special space-related training.

The center has book a ride to the International Space Station for its first astronaut aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for 2019.











Russian Launch Failures Aren’t a Bug, They’re a Feature

A Proton takes a nose dive at Baikonur. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Edior

Over the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of Russia’s annual launch failures. For reasons I can’t quite recall, the table I’ve used only went back to 2009.

Recently, I saw a graphic on a Russian website about launch failures, and I realized I hadn’t gone back far enough. So, I dug into the records of the last 30 years from 1988 through 2017, which covers Russia and the last four years of the Soviet Union.

And holy crap! There were a helluva lot of them. Launch failures are not a bug in the system, they’re a feature.

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Russia Looks to Cut Back on Funding for Baikonur

Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)
Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)

Russian funding for the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is likely to be cut significantly in the years ahead as Roscosmos shifts its focus toward the new Vostochny spaceport in the Russian Far East:

“In the earlier versions of the Draft Budget 2016, subsidies for Baikonur maintenance were at around $70.4 million,” CEO of the Center for Operation of Space Ground-Based Infrastructure Sergey Lazarev said, “These funds were supposed to be spent on salaries and maintenance of the cosmodrome’s facilities. We asked for more. But when our representative in the Ministry of Finance was shown the final draft, the subsidies made zero. In fact, this could mean that Baikonur will be left without any funding whatsoever.”

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Kazakhstan Limits Russian Rocket Launches from Baikonur

Proton rocket
Proton rocket

Russian officials are not pleased that Kazakhstan has approved the launch of 12 Proton rockets from Baikonur in 2013 instead of the requested 17. Kazakhstan has cited environmental reasons for the restriction, saying that Proton uses a toxic fuel.

Moscow may demand to review the cosmodrome lease agreement conditions, Iterfax-Kazakhstan reports, citing Interfax Division for Military News as quoting a source in the Russia’s space industry.

“A possible scenario is to initiate talks to have the rent payments tied to the extent to which the Baikonur satisfies Russia’s needs”, the source said.

“Russia is meeting Kazakhstan’s requirements to stagedly decrease harmful emissions of the carrier rockets”, the source said, reminding that Kazakhstan cited environment concerns when restricting the number of launches.

“In particular, Russia has implemented a costly program to modernize Proton carrier rockets to Proton-M. Heptyl-run Cyclon-2 and RS-20 are no longer used”, the source said, adding that “hardly will the sides come to terms within a short time”.

A total of 30 launches are planned from Baikonur this year.

This is the latest dispute over the Kazakh spaceport, which Russia leases at a cost of $115 million per year. Kazakhstan has said it wants to renegotiate the lease and assume greater control over the Soviet-era facility.

Russia will be moving many — but not all — of the launch operations currently performed at Baikonur to a new launch complex at Vostochny in the Russian Far East beginning in 2015.

Read the full story.











Energia Completes Design of Soyuz Replacement, Eyes 2017 Test Flight

PPTS-01RSC Energia announced that it has completed the design of Russia’s next-generation human spacecraft, which is intended to debut the same year that the Soyuz will reach its 50th anniversary:

The proposed spacecraft is commonly known as PPTS (or Prospective Piloted Transport System) and RSC Energia won the tender to build it in 2009. Initially, 2015 was named as the date of the first test flight, but that was then shifted to 2018. Now, [Energia Chief Vitaly] Lopota has brought the test date forward again.

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Russian Officials Not Keen on Turning Over Baikonur to Kazakhstan

It looks as if Kazakhstan could have a very long wait before it can take control of the Baikonur Cosmodrome and its adjoining city. A Kazakh proposal to gradually end the long-term lease that Russia holds on Baikonur is getting a chilly reception in Moscow.

“It will cause many issues, including social ones,” forecasts deputy head of the Russian State Duma’s commission on the CIS and compatriots Tatyana Moskalkova. She said that economic integration could assist in solving the problem. “If the EurAsian Economic Union were in place, those issues would not be that vital,” she explained.

Head of the State Duma’s commission Leonid Slutsky says the status question may be under discussion to the very end of the rent term between Russia and Kazakhstan, which is to 2050. “The format of the future joint exploitation is not in place, the terms are not clear,” he said. “Clearly, it (revision of the status)  is most likely to happen after expiration of the agreement, which is after 2050,” he said.

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Malfunctioning Russian Upper Stage Explodes, Spreads Orbital Debris

Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.

The decaying Russian space program continues to cause serious problems for the world:

A Russian Breeze M rocket stage, left with loaded fuel tanks after an August launch failure, exploded in orbit Oct. 16, raising concerns of the U.S. military, NASA and global satellite operators on the lookout for collision threats from hundreds of new space debris fragments.

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Russia: Rogozin Calls for Hypersonic Bomber by 2020

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

In a move that has puzzled military observers, Russia’s defense czar has called for his nation to produce a hypersonic bomber within eight years:

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin repeated his appeal on Monday for Russia to develop a hypersonic aircraft for its PAK-DA long-range bomber requirement.

“I think we need to go down the route of hypersonic technology and we are moving in that direction and are not falling behind the Americans,” he said on Rossiya 24 TV. “We will use this technology when developing a new bomber.”

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Proton Upper Stage Misfire Puts Satellites in Wrong Orbits

After seven months of successes, the Russian launch industry has suffered another setback when a malfunctioning Breeze M upper stage sent a pair of Russian and Indonesian communications satellites into the wrong orbit. ITAR-TASS reports that “the upper stage engine unit worked for only seven seconds instead of planned 18 minutes and five seconds, and the satellites were not put into the planned orbits.”

The nation experienced a string of launch failures from late 2010 to Dec. 23, 2011. The ITAR-TASS story quotes former Roscosmos head Anatoly Perminov, who was fired over the failures, as saying the problem is worse now because of the space agency abolished the department in charge of overseeing launch vehicles and upper stages. This makes it more difficult to identify those responsible for failures.

A press release from ILS explains the latest mishap.

RESTON, Virg. (ILS PR) — On 7 August at 1:32 a.m. local time, a Proton Breeze M vehicle carrying the Express MD2 and Telkom 3 satellites launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Proton M launch vehicle performed nominally, however, the Orbital Unit (OU), comprised of the Breeze M upper stage and the two spacecraft, did not properly reach its transfer orbit and was placed into an off-nominal intermediate orbit. The Aerospace Defense and Roscosmos, are currently monitoring the OU and efforts are now underway to establish contact with the Express MD2 and Telkom 3 satellites.

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