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Russia Downscales Lunar Program as Roscosmos Morphs into State Corporation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Dec-2015
Updated: 29-Dec-2015 06:22 PM

Russia's Roscosmos will become a state corporation rather than a government agency on January 1, completing a reorganization announced earlier this year. At the same time, funding constraints have led to another revision of Russia's federal space plan.  Human trips to the Moon will be postponed until at least the second half of the 2020s, although robotic missions are still on the books for as early as 2018.

The name of the Russian organization that oversees the space program will remain the same -- Roscosmos -- but the governance structure will change.  It will be a state corporation rather than a government agency.   This latest reorganization comes as Russian officials continue to try to remedy pervasive problems that have undermined its past reputation for reliable launch services.   A series of launch failures of various rockets over the past five years coupled with charges of corruption in companies that build spacecraft and rockets have led to many personnel changes in both the government and industrial sectors.

The newest head of Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, is the fourth Russian space agency director since NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden took office in 2009.   At that time, Roscosmos was headed by Anatoly Perminov.  He was replaced by Vladimir Popovkin, who was replaced by Oleg Ostapenko, who was replaced by Komarov. 

Each change followed more Russian rocket failures and several organizational models have been tried.  In 2013, when Ostapenko was named Roscosmos director, Roscosmos's duties were split into two:  the Roscosmos space agency and a newly created United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC, or ORKK using its Russian acronym).   Komarov was named head of URSC and in January 2015, the Russian government announced that the agency would be dissolved and all responsibilities would shift to a state corporation headed by Komarov.  Before becoming a space program official, Komarov was head of Russia's AvtoKAZ, which manufactures automobiles.

The process of transforming Roscosmos into a state corporation has taken almost exactly a year.  The plan was announced on January 21, 2015.  A law was passed on July 13 creating the Roscosmos State Corporation.  Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree yesterday (December 28), which becomes effective on January 1, 2016, abolishing the Roscosmos space agency.

In January, Komarov said he had been directed to submit a new federal space plan and he did in April, but it was premised on a space budget of 2 trillion rubles (about $28 billion) through 2025. (1 $US = 72.18 Russian rubles.) That later was revised downward to 1.4 trillion rubles (about $20 billion), with the possibility of another 115 billion rubles after 2021.  The reduction in anticipated funding necessitated a new draft plan for 2016-2025 that was just revealed.  Komarov cautioned reporters that it still must be coordinated with the Economic Development Ministry and the Finance Ministry. 

Komarov told Tass that funding will be frozen for the first three years of the plan (2016-2018) at its current level of 104.5 billion rubles.

The new plan pushes out Russian efforts to send humans to the Moon until the second half of the 2020s.  Quoting another Russian newspaper, Izvestiya, Tass reported that "a decision was taken to sacrifice the lunar programme" that previously had been designated as a strategic goal of the Russian space program.  Compared with the plan presented in April, the new version omits "the creation of a lunar landing/takeoff complex, a lunar orbital station, construction of a lunar base, the designing of a spacesuit for operations on the Moon, and designing of a system for robotic maintenance on the moon...."   Work reportedly will continue on developing a spacecraft to take humans to the Moon someday.  Tass published an infographic of a 12-ton "advanced crew transportation system" and identified it as a "reusable manned space vehicle" that "can be used up to 10 times" and will make its first flight to the Moon in 2028.  It does not state whether a crew will be aboard.

However, five robotic lunar probes still are on the books during the time period of the draft space plan. Oleg Korablyov, Deputy Director of the Space Research Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, listed four and said the first would be launched in 2018:  Luna 25, a lander (also known as Luna Glob); Luna 26, an orbiter; Luna 27, a sample return mission; and a "lunar surface vehicle."  The Soviet Union conducted extensive robotic lunar missions from 1959-1976, returning samples to Earth three times (Luna 16, Luna 20, Luna 24) and landing two rovers (Lunokhod-1 and -2), but never sent humans to the Moon.  Only the United States sent astronauts to orbit or land on the Moon (1968-1972).

Komarov said 205.1 billion rubles are allocated to lunar exploration in the new draft plan, along with 28.1 billion rubles for Mars research and 37.2 billion rubles for the Spektr series of earth-orbiting telescopes to observe the universe in various wavelengths.

Other activities in the plan include "projects and research" on reusable rocket stages and reusable spacecraft; launching 150 spacecraft for "social-economic and scientific purposes" during that time period, down from 185 in the previous draft program; and possibly a joint project, Boomerang, with the European Space Agency (ESA) for returning samples from the Martian moon Phobos.


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