Published 12-10-2012, 10:33
Despite all its problems, Russia still remains the country that launches the largest number of spaceships in the world. Here are some figures. Out of the total of 640 successful spaceship launches in the world within the last 19 years, 225 were made by Russia. The US is in the second place with 191 successful launches, and China – in the third with 87.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, space technology in Russia, for some time, began to decline. To make it survive, a decision was made to launch spaceships not only for the needs of Russia, but on orders from other countries as well – the more so because at that time, more and more satellites started to be launched not as much for scientific, as for commercial purposes.
Today, Russia launches a lot fewer spaceships and satellites than it used to several decades ago. In the early 1980s, Russia carried about 100 space launches a year. In the early 1990s, this figure reduced to 50, and in the 2000s – to about 30. However, as was said above, Russia still leads in the world in the number of satellite launches.
There were 2 cosmodromes in the Soviet Union – one near the village of Plesetsk in Russia’s north, and the other in a place called Baykonur in Kazakhstan. At present, Russia uses both (although Russia and Kazakhstan are now two separate states, there is an agreement that Russia may use the Baykonur cosmodrome).
Russia still builds high-quality spaceships and rockets like it used to do in the Soviet time. However, although Russia leads in the number of satellites it launches, it still cannot catch up with the breakthrough in advanced space technologies which the US and the EU made in the 1990s. For all its quality, Russian space equipment still cannot compete with, say, the joint US-European orbital station "Hubble,” the "Cassini–Huygens” spaceship, which now explores Saturn (another US-European project) or the spaceships that the US launched to explore Mars.
Moreover, China and India may soon become Russia’s competitors on the world market of space launches. At present, these two countries launch only their own satellites, but the rapid development of space technologies there gives grounds to suppose that very soon, China and India may start taking orders for launching satellites for other countries as well.
Another rival of Russia at the market of space technologies is the US company SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, which is known for its rocket "Falcon” and spaceship "Dragon.” The new modifications of "Falcon” and "Dragon,” which the company is now developing, promise to be more commercially profitable for clients than their Russian analogues "Soyuz” and "Progress.”
Besides the work of US engineers, SpaceX uses technologies created in Europe and Japan.
All these factors present a feasible threat that Russia may soon lose its position of a leader in space.
In the current situation, there can be probably one way for Russia to preserve this position. Paradoxical as it may sound, to survive in the current situation, Russia’s space program needs to become less commercial. From seeking ways of earning money through commercial launches, Russia should switch to the development of more advanced space devices than the ones it builds now. If Russia creates something that would be able to compete with "Falcon” and "Dragon,” its positions on the space market will surely strengthen.
The developers of Russia’s space program should probably remember that besides commerce, space exploration should also pursue scientific purposes. The very ideology that determines Russia’s space program should change.