Today the new Roscosmos starts its activities as a state corporation that replaces the old Russian space agency, officially dissolved on December 28 2015 with a decree of President Vladimir Putin. It’s an important step in the reorganization of the Russian space program began in 2013 in an attempt to revamp it and above all to solve the problems it’s been suffering.
In recent years the Russian space program was struck by a series of problems. The result was the failure of a series of rocket launches, the latest only a few weeks ago: on December 5 2015 the Kanopus-ST satellite got lost because it didn’t separate from the upper stage of the Soyuz rocket it was launched atop.
Another consequence is the delay in the completion of the Vostochny cosmodrome, which should gradually replace the one in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. According to statements coming from Roscosmos in recent days, the first launch from Vostochny could happen in April 2016, about six years late on the original schedule.
In July 2013, the then Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, after one of the mishaps, announced tough measures to change the situation. An investication carried out during 2015 revealed cases of corruption and there was the arrest of Dmitry Dyakonov, President of Ekopravo, a company linked to Khrunichev, the producer of the Russian Proton rockets and the new Angara rockets.
The new Roscosmos now controls all the Russian space industry. In theory, the work should be conducted more efficiently but will that be enough to solve the problems of the Russian space program? Despite various proclamations of wanting even to send cosmonauts to the Moon, the new company will have to deal with various budget cuts and the project of a mission to the Moon has already been postponed to a date yet to be decided.
For Vladimir Putin national prestige is a very important factor but for Russia the economic factor matter as well. The satellite launch industry keeps on expanding so having reliable launch vehicles and being able to launch several of them is crucial to be competitive.
Russia is currently the only one running the trips to send crew to the International Space Station with their return to Earth with its Soyuz spacecraft. The other space agencies are paying about $70 million per astronaut launched on the Soyuz but in 2017 the new American spacecraft might enter service. That will limit the income for Roscosmos.
In 2016 we’ll see if the new Roscosmos will really allow to cut bureaucracy and other problems that have limited the activities of the Russian space program. It’s a difficult task and there’s a risk that this big formal transformation will bring few real changes.