The success of the American engineer and businessman Ilon Musk has forced Dmitri Rogozin, the CEO of Roscosmos (the Russian state consortium responsible for the space program), to “swallow a springboard.” It is that springboard that the Americans will no longer have to resort to if the Russian Soyuz rockets fail to transport crew and goods between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS).
The story of the “springboard” dates back to 2014, when Rogozin threatened the US with depriving him of Russian means of transport if he thought to extend to space the sanctions regime that Washington had imposed on Moscow due to the annexation of Crimea and the political of the Kremlin in Ukraine. If the sanctions were extended to that sector, Rogozin warned then, the Americans should help themselves with a “springboard” to get into orbit.
Now, after the Crew Dragon spacecraft with two astronauts on board, successfully arrived at its destination on the ISS, the “springboard” theme has resurfaced. He mentioned it, laughing, Elon Musk as a “joke” and Rogozin picked it up in a message to NASA Director Jim Bridenstine.
“Bravo. (…). I wish the entire NASA team to successfully complete the rebuilding of the entire national transportation system for flights to the ISS. Congratulate my sincere congratulations to Ilon Mask (and yes, I liked his joke) and to the entire Space X team. I eagerly await further collaboration, ”wrote Rogozin on his twitter.
With cordial words and jokes as a backdrop, the launch of Falcon 9 marks the beginning of a new stage in the relationship between space managers in Russia and the US. The collaboration and rivalry between Washington and Moscow in space exploration they come from the Soviet era and have various aspects. Now that the space race seems to gain new strength as an affirmation of the State and also as a business with prospects, the resentment is perceived in some vinegar comments, such as those of an official television channel that during the broadcast of the launch sowed doubts about its veracity. Also in the comments of the first deputy head of the Duma Defense committee, Aleksandr Sherin. This deputy told Govorit Moskva radio station that it was necessary to check “how many pieces of that rocket (Falcon 9) are Russian”. And he wondered: “Whose engine is on Elon Musk’s ship? This needs to be clarified. ” A few days before launch, Rogozin himself had said that “only with all of us united in one fist can we fight aggressive competition from our western partners.” The senior official claimed that the conduct of scientific programs in the Russian segment of the ISS had been slowed by NASA’s use of Soyuzs, “nine years in a row leading crews, reducing ours,” he said. He admitted, however, that Roscosmos had earned “some money.”
Musk’s deed prompts reflections to the military specialist Alexandr Golts, for whom the US private launch constitutes a “good example of state-private cooperation”, a “more effective competition that prevents political blackmail” and “a symbol of the mistake made by Russia by reforming the military-industrial complex by creating corporations that effectively replaced the nine industrial ministries of the USSR. ” “The cooperation between Russia and the US in space will continue, because it can only be dispensed with gradually, but Musk shows a cheaper and more effective model of exploration and in that sense it is a lesson for NASA and for Roscosmos,” said the specialist. .
In an interview in late 2018, Yuri Baturin, cosmonaut and adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev in the past, drew attention to the flawed symbiosis in the area of space between Russian state-owned companies and private companies. Referring to that sector, he then commented to this journalist: “The laws have been enacted precisely to allow the State’s money to be taken with impunity.”
On the surface, a suspicious calm seems to reign today. In 2015 on the occasion of the publication of a biography of Musk, the Moscow press highlighted that the businessman traveled to Russia in 2002 to buy launch satellites, but the price requested by the Russians was too expensive and he gave them up. There, in that failed deal, Musk would have started his career as a space entrepreneur.
In Russia there are well-trained specialists to manage a space program. Another question is what kind of talents this country has fostered in recent years. Mikhail Kokorich, a physicist from Novosibirsk, was the founder of the company Dauria Aerospace (producer of light and sustainable satellites), and collaborated with Roscosmos, but had to close his company in 2017 due to a dispute with the state company as a result of a failed launch where Dauria Aerospace satellites were being transported. Now Kokorich is one of the directors of the company Momentus.Space, in California.
The launch of Falcón 9 ends the era of “romantic internationalism and marks” the beginning of Pax Americana in space, “said Kokorich in Forbes magazine. The new generation reusable rockets “make the US totally independent from Russia in the field of engine construction.” In space exploration, he continues, “the US has no current or potential competitor and does not wish to act any further in the interests of the international community or allied countries.”
“The Russian space program resembles a pale shadow of the technological strength of the USSR,” says the scientist, according to whom in Russia throughout the post-Soviet era “no truly groundbreaking product or technology has been created.” According to the expert, the brain drain, the degradation of technical education, the isolation of the space industry with international sanctions and export limitations continue, “and” a monopolistic and quasi-state space industry “with” total absence of entrepreneurial initiative. ” “The romanticism of the fifties and sixties” gave way to “economic calculation”, in prospect there is a market of trillions of dollars and the protagonists will be the great North American businessmen, he said.
Musk’s trip “creates conditions for deeper expeditions, to the Moon and Mars, and is a good example of efficient private-state collaboration,” academic Volodomir Gorbulin, a missile designer at the large factory, told us from Kiev. from Yushmash, in Dnipro (formerly Dnipropetrovsk) in the time of the USSR and later head of the Ukrainian Space Agency, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The prospects for the future are nebulous and behind the clouds, the Moon. President Donald Trump has already declared that the Moon is his and Putin has not yet sent a mission to that satellite this year, as he announced in 2018, specifying that he wanted to start with a landing at its poles because there is apparently water and that could help in further explorations through space.
And beyond the rational discourse, one feels the “nostalgia of Yuri Gagarin” (the first astronaut to be put into orbit on April 12, 1961), transformed into the symbol of a “magical adventure” that left humanity breathless. On the Moscow radio station Echo, the singer Andrei Makarévich said that the successes in space made him happy as a child, when he dreamed of reaching Venus, and now make him happy. “And I don’t care so much if the Americans, the Chinese, the Indians, or us do it. Although, if we do it, it is especially nice, ”he said.