Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Russia Not a Player in Increasingly Privatized Space Exploration, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 1 – The Russian Federation is playing an ever smaller part in civilian and increasingly privatized space exploration because Moscow has subordinated its space efforts to the needs of the military and other government agencies, according to Russian experts surveyed by Novyye izvestiya. 

            They say, the paper concludes, that Dmitry Rogozin who oversees the branch for the government is responsible for this return to past practices at a time when other countries are moving in the opposite direction (newizv.ru/article/tilda/01-10-2018/zemnoe-prityazhenie-pochemu-rossiya-poteryala-liderstvo-v-kosmose).

                Not only is this approach costing Russia the income it might get from civilian and privatized projects, they say; but perhaps more important, it means that the country is falling ever further behind in the pursuit of knowledge about space and about the kinds of technologies that space exploration can generate.

            One Russian space specialist, Vadim Lukashevich, places the blame directly on Rogozin. He “is not even a politician who looks ahead and thinks about consequences.” Instead, he focuses on meeting the needs of the military and ignores civilian ones, even though “the most successful space projects are precisely the civilian.”

            The military is only concerned with space near the earth, but civilian projects are focusing on the moon, the planets and the stars, he says. That is what the US is doing already; and it is leaping ahead of Russia as a result. And those who gain information advantages, Lukashevich’s colleague Natan Eismont says, gain others, including military ones, as well.

            But the Russian space program ignores that reality. Eismont gives just one example: On the international space station, the US side has conducted 1457 experiments in that unique micro-gravity environment; the Russian side only 85, a clear indication of the priorities of the two countries.

            Rogozin says he plans to change this imbalance; but his promises come too late. The US plans to end financing of the international space station by 2025 and rely on other, typically private companies, instead.  Moscow must make a similar change or fall even further behind, Lukashevich and Eismont say. 

            But there is no indication that the Russian space program under Rogozin is actually going to make those shifts.  And its talk of a combined effort with the BRICS countries is empty: Most of the other countries don’t have the necessary technology; and China doesn’t need Russia to pursue its own goals.

            Rogozin and other Russian space officials have comforted themselves with the fact that Russia is the only country which has the capacity to take cosmonauts and astronauts to the international space station. But that ignores both US government decisions and the achievements of private American space companies.

            Russia’s situation could have been very different, the experts say. In 2013, some in Moscow proposed that the Russian space program follow NASA’s approach, getting Roskosmos out of the business of industrial production and making it instead a grantor of contracts to the private sector. 

            Had that happened, the experts continue, Roskosmos would have been interested in competition just as the Americans are and just as was the case under Stalin and his Soviet successors who often played one group of industrial producers off against another to achieve breakthroughs.

            But instead, Lukashevich and Eismont say, Moscow plumped for a system even more centralized, undercapitalized and militarized than its Soviet predecessor; and now, the country is suffering as a result.

            What is going to happen next? Near-earth cosmonautics in Russia are going to remain dominated by the military; and explorations into deeper space will occur if and only if Moscow can bring itself to cooperate with others in the international community, something it shows little or no sign of being willing to do.

            Rogozin reflects Moscow’s current approach well: He is enamored of military programs and anti-Western rhetoric regardless of what that means for Russia’s future in space or even on earth, the Moscow newspaper concludes.

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