FALLOUT: Russia’s Space Program Is in Big Trouble.
Crippled by war and sanctions, Russia now faces evidence that its already-struggling space program is falling apart. In the past three months alone, Roscosmos has scrambled to resolve two alarming incidents. First, one of its formerly dependable Soyuz spacecraft sprang a coolant leak. Then the same thing happened on one of its Progress cargo ships. The civil space program’s Soviet predecessor launched the first person into orbit, but with the International Space Station (ISS) nearing the end of its life, Russia’s space agency is staring into the abyss.
“What we’re seeing is the continuing demise of the Russian civil space program,” says Bruce McClintock, a former defense attaché at the US embassy in Moscow and current head of the Space Enterprise Initiative of the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization. Around 10 years ago, Russian leaders chose to prioritize the country’s military space program—which focuses on satellite and anti-satellite technologies—over its civilian one, McClintock says, and it shows.
Russia’s space fleet is largely designed to be expendable. The history of its series of Soyuz rockets and crew capsules (they both have the same name) dates back to the Soviet era, though they’ve gone through upgrades since. Its Progress cargo vessels also launch atop Soyuz rockets. The cargo ships, crewed ships, and rockets are all single-use spacecraft. Anatoly Zak, creator and publisher of the independent publication RussianSpaceWeb, estimates that Roscosmos launches about two Soyuz vehicles per year, takes about 1.5 to 2 years to build each one, and doesn’t keep a substantial standing fleet.
While Roscosmos officials did not respond to interview requests, the agency has been public about its recent technical issues.
Plus this, which failed to make headlines here: “For crewed launches, Russia has long depended on its Baikonur spaceport in neighboring Kazakhstan. But the nation has charged costly annual fees, and in March Kazakhstan seized Russian spaceport assets, reportedly due to Roscosmos’ debt.”