The space station is a shift to commercial crew vehicles. Where does that leave Russia?

A Russian Soyuz launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying a new crew to the International Space Station in 2012. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

I have a number of days in June traveling with a group of journalists to look at the Expedition 56 crew launched to the International Space Station (ISS). To do this, we had to make our way to Moscow, picked up by a charter plane and fly to the remote desert town of Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

We wrapped up our trip on the 8th of June in Moscow when the crew successfully docked with the ISS. At that moment, a small group of officials from NASA, Europe and the Russian space agency Roscosmos together in the TsUP (Russian Mission Control) to talk about the mission.

But when he was asked about the future, the conversation suddenly faded. The consensus: the Discussions are ongoing and the public will have to wait. [Roscosmos: Russia and the Historic Space Centers in Photos]

No NASA commitment past 2019

All the people go to the International Space Station, must do so through Kazakhstan today. Since the space shuttle retired in 2011, there is no other ship in state to the people there in addition to Soyuz, the Russian workhorse of many decades. NASA purchases seats for its astronauts; each assignment is worth tens of millions of dollars. But the situation is changing fast.

Two companies — Boeing and SpaceX — are developing commercial crew vehicles to transport astronauts to the ISS. They need to start flying crews in the next year or two, at least if the current development schedule. And NASA is not obliged to buy all the seats in the past, 2019, several officials told me, while I was in Moscow. That made me wonder — what is the future of Roscosmos with less money flowing from international partners?

“This will definitely pose a problem for the agency in the field of funding, which has been struggling of late,” Michael Dodge, a space that the law and policy researcher at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, told in an e-mail. “The United States is paying a lot of money for each seat on the Soyuz, which helps to offset the costs of preparing, maintaining and starting of the vehicle. Of course, Russia has its own interests to support, on board of the ISS, and will still be required to launch its cosmonauts to the station to the decision that it no longer wants to take part in the business.

“As the number of launches they need to remain stable in comparison with the current schedules, they see a considerable increase in the cost of the surgery if they would be the launch of the spacecraft without paid-AMERICAN seats. On the other hand, they would be able to increase the number of cosmonauts that are brought back to the station,” Dodge said. [Touring Baikonur: The City Behind the Famous baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan]

Look further than the ISS

The Trumpet administration committed to the ISS funding until 2024, but the latest budget request has no money for the space station past. That is so that NASA can focus its resources on Deep Space Gateway, a lunar space station, which plays a role in the administration of the request to send astronauts to the moon again before going on to Mars.

The Europeans have expressed interest in Deep Space Gateway, but Roscosmos, their direction is unclear. The agency at NASA in a different space to go on his own, or ally itself with newer space powers (such as China) for other work, Dodge said.

“President Trump noted that he would like to see cooperation between the member states [nations] in the space, so it remains to be seen if the US would be interested in securing Russian cooperation on a particular point in the future, or whether Russia would want to participate if asked (given the ability to create their own station),” Dodge said. “In the meantime, Russia can form a stronger bond with China, which, as an emerging space power in its own right, may be interested in the court of Russian expertise in both engines and start the procedure.”

A new person has recently been appointed Roscosmos, according to multiple reports in the media — Dmitry Rogozin, which used to be the Russian government’s “point-man” for the defence and aerospace industry, Space, News places. He is best known in AMERICAN circles for a tweet in 2014, written amid the Western sanctions imposed after the Russian military activities in the Crimea. Referring to the fact that NASA is dependent on Roscosmos to launch astronauts, Rogozin suggested NASA should use trampolines to send its astronauts to the ISS.

Rogozin takes in a time in which Roscosmos is trying to get the launch rate on Vostochny, the new launch complex in the Far East. The complex has its share in the construction of problems, and all of a rocket failure in its young history. Vostochny is intended to eventually replace Baikonur, which would be the Russian launches on Russian soil. Currently, Russia pays an annual rent (7.2 billion rubles, or $115 million) to Kazakhstan for the use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

“A new leader signals a change of Roscosmos, and with Dmitry Rogozin in the post, it probably means that the Russian leadership desires someone with extensive experience in the management of the government space business in order to take control of what is perceived — fairly or not — as a difficult start with the current activities on the new cosmodrome,” Dodge said. He added that the AMERICAN observers should not be too much anxiety” about Rogozin’s past comments about the NASA, because the Russian and AMERICAN space programs have continued to work together for the past four years, in spite of their differences over Crimea.

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