Sanctions and counter-sanctions: what awaits Russian cosmonautics in the new conditions

Interview
Sanctions and counter-sanctions: what awaits Russian cosmonautics in the new conditions
Sanctions and counter-sanctions: what awaits Russian cosmonautics in the new conditions
2 March, 10:57Photo: Atomic-energy.ru
The Russian space program is in danger of shutting down. And although the manned mission to the ISS and cooperation with NASA will proceed as usual, some programs have come under the knife both because of ESA sanctions and because of Roscosmos counter-sanctions.

Natalya Seybil

The promoter of astronautics, the blogger "ZelenyKot" Vitaly Yegorov dryly lists what is no longer in the Russian astronautics. There is no commercial cosmonautics, cooperation with NASA on the interplanetary station "Venera-D" has also come to an end, all Russian satellites are under threat, the international space station "ExoMars" is rather not. Russian cosmonautics and space science is thrown back in the 1990s. Yegorov is often told: why are you saying and writing all this. He speaks because everyone else, who could tell a lot, is silent. Someone has to say it.

- How will the sanctions affect the space industry?

- Our cosmonautics is doomed to the State contract. Roskosmos already lived to a large extent at the expense of the State Order - these are orders for the military, communications, metrology, the International Space Station. But there was also income from commercial activities - these are rocket launches, the sale of rocket engines, the sale of rockets, sometimes the sale of satellites and the transportation of American astronauts to the ISS.

Despite the fact that we cooperate on the ISS, investing with our work, the Americans paid extra money for the fact that we carried their astronauts when they did not have their own spaceships. They have already made spaceships, they flew in 2020. They decided to abandon rocket engines back in 2014-2015, before that they had no alternative. Now their private companies are developing all the necessary replacements and there is an opportunity to abandon our engines. For several years, there are still stocks of our engines that were purchased earlier.

With commercial activities, too, everything went to the point that everything would be bad. Echo 2014. In fact, from 2023, all commercial prospects for our rocket launches would be reset to zero. America has prescribed the law on public procurement in this way, and the USA can sell to different countries and different companies, they are all interested in complying with this law. It says that if you have something launched on a Russian rocket or just a Russian part, then we will not buy it from you. It's not an outright ban, but if you fly a Russian rocket, you'll make less money. Of course, in a business environment, everyone is interested in making more money, especially since there are Indian, lighter, American, European missiles, everything indicated that from 2023 our missiles would not fly on commercial orders.

If you look at commercial launches, they all fit into 2022. But that was before the start of the “special operation”.

How long will the desire remain now, because the commercial cooperation between Western customers and Russian rocket scientists has more than twenty years. In general, before the political changes, the customers - Western and Eastern (Korean, Japanese) had a very good attitude towards our astronautics. Because the missiles are quite reliable, at least the Soyuz, and partnerships have already been established.

But now everything has changed. The attitude towards Russia has changed. Even if there are no prescribed norms, this affects both science and commercial activities. It is unlikely that even in 2022 all signed and even paid orders will be fulfilled by Roscosmos.

We see that this extends to science. Cooperation with European, American, Eastern scientists is greater than even in the Russian Federation. It started in the seventies. Russian devices are installed both at American interplanetary stations and at European ones. The Curiosity rover has been traveling on Mars for ten years and out of 10 scientific instruments, one is Russian. Mars-Express flies over his head, there is also a Russian device there. Almost everything that we know today about the distribution of water throughout Mars, and there is water on Mars, it was found using a Russian device on board an American spacecraft, all this shows that our science - joint, Russian, American, European can work and did it successfully.

I was shocked to learn that at the Russian-German space observatory, Germany turned off its telescope. There are only two telescopes - Russian and German. The spacecraft is Russian. It was the German telescope that brought the most important and extensive scientific data. The Russians, along with the Germans, used the materials of both. And the Germans are now turning off at the insistence of officials. Despite the fact that there are twenty years of interaction, friendship and joint work of scientists from Germany and Russia.

Now the biggest question is with the ExoMars project. Here, too, there is a ten-year experience of cooperation with Europe. The project has two stages. First, the ExoMars spacecraft is launched. Now he is already flying successfully near Mars. It has four scientific instruments, two of which are Russian. Half of the satellite is ours, but the data is processed together. The spacecraft itself is European and there are two of our instruments on it. It is scary for the second part of this project, which assumes that a European Mars rover will be launched from Baikanur, which should give very interesting data about Mars, perhaps unravel the mystery of Martian life. He must fly on a Russian rocket, "land" to Mars with the help of a Russian descent vehicle. We still hope that this will take place. Both Russian and European scientists sit with their fingers crossed. This project has been in the making for decades. Everyone wants to get started. Everyone is ready to cooperate, but politics is stronger than space, stronger than science and dictates its own laws.

Mars is a problem. You can start only one month for two years. Such a month will come in September of this year. The next two years to wait, but the ballistic conditions will be different. Mars will be further away at this time, it will be necessary to rebuild the entire structure and it will take another thirty years to wait for a new launch. Perhaps not thirty years, but much longer. If ExoMars does not fly in September of this year, then there will be new expenses for the program. In this case, neither the economy nor the scientific interest is no longer in control.

A very risky situation for our scientists is the inability to continue to carry out joint projects. The future of scientific projects connected with Americans and Europeans is under great threat. At a minimum - freezing, maximum - refusal of any cooperation. This is extremely unpleasant for the future of our astronautics and our space science.

- What is the fate of the ISS and the Nauka module?

- The Science module was launched six months ago. But it takes another two years for it to start bringing serious scientific data. The ISS was supposed to fly for 10 years. Now it has been flying for 20 years. Its service life has been extended, but at the same time, the astronauts carefully monitor the performance of the systems, change, repair when necessary. In general, there is a feeling that she will last until 2030 if she is closely monitored, even despite the fact that they talk about her. NASA has received a proposal to Roscosmos to extend the flight until 2028. Everyone was interested in it. Now the flight program is expected until 2024. I am afraid that politics will seriously affect this decision, although recently NASA emphasized that it is ready to cooperate with Roscosmos on the ISS program, but this is a forced desire. Now there are no technical means to separate from each other or simply pay Russia for our part of the station.

- Is Roskosmos capable of supporting the life support of the ISS and continuing to fly there? What is the risk?

- One without NASA, Roskosmos will not be able to fly to the ISS, because 70% of the stations are American. Even one Russian module of the ISS "Zarya" belongs to the Americans, from which the station began. NASA cannot manage the station without Roskosmos now. This was deliberately done during the construction phase of the station. Now everyone, both Russia and the United States, are hostages of this decision. No matter how the situation develops in politics on earth, if we want to fly into space, we will fly into space together.

- If NASA removes its astronauts from the ISS and declares that it is no longer taking part in this. Is such an option possible?

- Extremely unlikely. NASA is trying to replace Russia's participation, add its own module, add its own spacecraft so that it can solve the tasks that are currently being performed by the Russian segment. Considering that Russia has now left the Kourou cosmodrome of its own accord, it has left the Venera D project of its own accord and refused to cooperate with the Americans. It is more likely that Russia will say: we will not fly to the ISS, do what you want with it.

Roscosmos has a certain interest in leaving the ISS, but on the condition that it receives the necessary funding to create its own separate station. Technically, this can also be done, according to optimistic forecasts - in three years. Even if we separate a segment from the ISS, we add our own segment, for example, a scientific and energy module. In general, this can be called your own station, you just need to fly away from the American station and continue to fly on your own. In principle, the Russian segment of the ISS was built on the basis of those modules that were built for a separate station, still Soviet. In principle, if you try, in a few years it can be done. And the Americans can have time to find a measurement of the Russian part, and Russia can have time. This takes three to five years. And given that events are happening rapidly, the situation changes every few hours, I'm afraid that just no one will have time.

Europe also works on the ISS. She, too, is interested in keeping things going, so I hope for the remnants of common sense. The ISS will remain in orbit and we will work together until 2028. But this is more my wish to the Universe.

- What will happen to Russian cosmonautics?

- Soviet cosmonautics developed alone. Our cosmonautics is a legacy of Soviet cosmonautics. To a large extent, it has been preserved. In many ways - at the expense of foreign money, American and European. But be that as it may, this is our astronautics. The only thing needed is government funding. Budgets. What Roskosmos now receives from the state allows us to maintain the current state. But, if we want to build a new station, then funding needs to be increased. At a minimum, it should be doubled.

As a rule, such assessments are made by Roskosmos once every ten years. This is the so-called federal space program. In 2015, such an assessment was made. Based on all the optimistic desires of Roskosmos, he requested 3.4 trillion rubles for ten years. As a result, he received 1.4 trillion for ten years. And even after that there were cutbacks. If we want to maintain the current state of our astronautics, if we want to develop, if we want our own manned station, this requires at least twice as much budget. Everything rests not on Roskosmos, everything rests on the Ministry of Finance. Will Russia be able to maintain current space funding and increase it?

- If now the use of foreign software, equipment, electronics is banned. How will Roscosmos survive?

- It is necessary to separate computers on which the design is drawn and electronics for satellites. I wouldn’t worry too much about software, simply because we don’t draw on drawing boards and, if possible, use Western software, but we have Compass, a design program. It is inferior to Western counterparts and is not yet common in Roskosmos, but in the absence of fish - everything is better than a drawing board.

As for document management programs, I would not worry, because we still work on paper. The last IT revolution that took place in Roskosmos three years ago was the refusal to use faxes. At least now a fax can be replaced by a scan sent by e-mail. In this case, the legacy of the USSR also helps us.

The hardest hit is electronics. Electronic component base. Over the past ten years, Roscosmos and our microelectronic industry have not been able to import not only Western electronics, but also Eastern electronics - Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese. Roscosmos has come up with a separate term for itself: everyone is engaged in "import substitution", and Roscosmos is engaged in "import independence". This suggests that if some do not sell us electronics, we will go buy from others. This allows us to maintain our satellite constellation and produce new satellites. But if those, like Taiwan now, refuse, this is serious.

We have our own electronics, but it is not enough. Without import, we really can not do. But here it’s not even that everyone will stop selling to us. We can buy Chinese electronics. The problem is that if the entire design of the spacecraft, and they are made for 5-10 years, if electronics from one manufacturer were included in the design of the apparatus, even if there is an analogue from another manufacturer, you still have to redo the entire structure - the characteristics are different, the requirements are different, the conditions are different , other sizes. All this leads to the fact that you have to redo it again. It will take another five years to remake. This is serious work. And money.

The deployment of the microelectronics industry at a cost to the European level of a decade ago will cost more than the space program.

- Is it possible in this situation to talk about the development of astronautics as a science and the construction of our own station?

- The most important thing is bright heads. We have them. There are professionals, specialists. It is possible to do something. CCC R lived in conditions of restrictions and could do something. Not everything that I wanted, not everything worked out, but astronautics was at the world level.

Of course, Russian cosmonautics will live on. The only thing that needs to be said is that in recent years, when funding began to decline, when there was a crisis, one could talk about the development of astronautics. Now we will remember the past years as the Golden Age.

- The lunar program that Rogozin spoke about, can it be put an end to?

- Even when it was said three years ago, all these "lunar plans" were only hopes. These were not plans, but the voicing by Roskosmos of the desire to implement them. No one allocated money for this, although back in 2018 Putin signed an order to allocate money for the construction of a super-heavy rocket that could take our cosmonauts to the moon. But no one started to finance or build it. There was no money. We made drawings and stopped there. The draft design was not approved.

Now you can not talk about it. Now the dream of Roskosmos is its own near-Earth station. Roskosmos has been talking about this for two years now. You can forget about the moon. At least about manned flights. We have a program for automatic stations. By 2025, Roscosmos is to launch three spacecraft to the Moon. One should fly in six months. I think he will fly. Ground tests remain, but in general, all electronics are already in place. The next two are in question, although I hope that they guessed to buy the components for them in advance. But these are robots. You can definitely forget about people's flight plans for ten years. Their implementation will begin at best in fifteen years.

- How many years did this whole story throw back the development of astronautics?

- I think we were thrown out in the 90s. For 25 years.

There are people. There is experience. Even if we roll back, we have a base from which we can push off and move on. Now our cosmonautics is the third in the world. In terms of funding - the fifth or sixth. We remain in third place because we have a gigantic Soviet, post-Soviet technological and intellectual base. Our astronautics will sag, but will not fall. Our missiles are still world-class.

- With whom can Roscosmos cooperate today?

- With all countries that are not politically and economically dependent on the United States. For example, all of Africa. Astronautics is developing in South Africa, in Egypt, in Nigeria, in Iran. There are a large number of countries in the world that are starting to get involved in astronautics and are starting to invest in it. Those who have extensive experience and are ready to offer their cooperation can find new customers. But you need to understand that most of the money is spinning in the economy of Europe and the USA, Japan and South Korea.

A small cooperation with India is already underway. There is a lot to learn from Russia in India's manned cosmonautics. In rocket science and satellite engineering, it has reached if not an equal level, but has the necessary competencies to reach an equal level in five to ten years. India has already overtaken us in interplanetary astronautics. In India, spacecraft fly near the Moon and Mars. We can only dream of such achievements. We have not had successful launches to other planets since 1988, and even then it was not very successful. We dream that we will have our own devices. The last pride we had was the Spektr-RG telescope, now more than half of it is turned off.

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