back to article Soyuz later! Russia may exit satellite launch biz

Russia has dropped a broad hint that it might leave the space launch business to private operators. Space launches have become a relative commodity: SpaceX publishes a price list offering a Falcon 9 trip to geosynchronous transfer orbit for $62m, or $90m for Falcon Heavy. Russia's official newsagency TASS carried a report …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Probably has to do more with the sanctions

    This probably has to do more with the various sanctions being waved around than the actual financials. Some of the key suppliers to their space industry are now in the sanctions list. Getting a perfectly "clean" launch for a customer without that customer starting to ask questions about sanctions compliance is a bit of an issue.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Probably has to do more with the sanctions

      Yep. "No commercial customers left, so let's save face by pretending that we are actually the ones turning them away."

      End sanctions and you will see this idiot u-turning faster than he can swivel on an upraised finger. What does he take us for, even bigger idiots?

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Probably has to do more with the sanctions

        What does he take us for, even bigger idiots?

        When you look at what we agree on consuming that assumption is not entirely unwarranted.

    2. John Deeb

      Re: Probably has to do more with the sanctions

      Possible as one current factor but the global economical developments in space flight are easier to quantify and a well known longer term undisputed trend. Launch schedules are years in advance being planned. Sanctions can come and go quicker than many larger space projects eg the ISS. And another big customer like the Galileo project switched to Ariane 5 ES after they worked out how to launch four sats at the same time. Lets face it, In terms of launch technology Russian fell behind and the edge in simplicity and reliability does not work anymore to corner the market (as they did).

  2. Notas Badoff

    At those prices...

    For those prices there has got to be a market for "eternal repose" for billionaires. What a hook!

    "Look down on everyone, for eternity, for only $62 million."

    And for only $90 million, "You *can* take it with you."

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: At those prices...

      That was tried nearly 15 years ago and every single USA agency went up in arms against that. Sorry, can't be arsed to dig up the reference - just google it.

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: At those prices...

        Are we sure that dummy in the roadster really was a dummy?

        1. Def Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: At those prices...

          The dummy was just a dummy, dummy. But did anyone check in the boot?

        2. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: At those prices...

          And has anyone seen Jeff Bezos in public since?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe for commercial launches

    ...but no way will Russia give up an independent launch capability for military payloads and rely on the US, ESA, or China for that matter.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Maybe for commercial launches

      Well, that's exactly what the article said!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Maybe for commercial launches

        that's exactly what the article said!

        Perhaps you could point out where the article said that, exactly?

  4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    TESS

    There's a good story on the BBC news site about the TESS launch. Best bit was that the launch vehicle was mentioned almost as an aside. It's great that the payload is back to being the story, and not the Falcon. Cheap, private space vehicles are now routine.

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    There's a bit of realpolitik to consider here, too, because tension between the USA and Russia means the former nation isn't very keen on sending business Moscow's way.

    Former nation? Glad to hear the USA finally split up.

  6. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
    Trollface

    Space race, what space race?

    Trump doesn't seem to be trumpeting how the USA is beating Russia in a head to head race to be top nation, probably because this would involve giving more money to NASA which could be frittered away generating fake news.

    So no incentive for the obviously not gay bare chested horse riding Putin to throw resources behind a launch vehicle.

    Wait a few years until China is the new world leader in state sponsored rocketry.

  7. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    A SMARTR AIMovement ..... with the Off Loading of Sensitive News Stock Items ...

    .... to a Whole New World of Classy Clients and SASsy Customers

    A Superior ACTive CyberSpace Force has Russia with Sources which Driver All Possible Future Events ..... and in that Very Particular and Peculiar Field is Nothing Impossible and Improbable.

    What's the Betting that the likes of a Rostec* and Partnering Affiliates, to name but One Mega Virtual Player/State Actor, with DARPA and IARPA being another possible two, are Primarily Engaged and Enthusiastically Exploring the Greater IntelAIgent Game Plays now easily made readily available for Unassailable Leads in the Field and IT and Money Markets.

    * http://rostec.ru/en/innovations/#policy

    1. Trollslayer Silver badge

      Re: A SMARTR AIMovement ..... with the Off Loading of Sensitive News Stock Items ...

      Don't know about Mars but you're definitely from another planet.

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        Re: A SMARTR AIMovement ..... with the Off Loading of Sensitive News Stock Items ...

        Aww, leave him alone he obviously just needs some adjustment. It has been a while since he posted anything coherent though. I also take it you're new here.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: A SMARTR AIMovement ..... with the Off Loading of Sensitive News Stock Items ...

          Aww, leave him alone he obviously just needs some adjustment. It has been a while since he posted anything coherent though`

          Less than a week. His post referring to the spat between OPCW and Lavrov regarding the Buzz contamination of the samples was the first one on the Reg and was shockingly coherent. Especially for amanfromMars 1.

          That is something which our media has mostly "prevented us from seeing just in case so we are not disturbed". While it proves nothing new (for either side) it makes the overall picture which was as murky as mud to start off with even more so.

      2. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

        Re: A SMARTR AIMovement ..... with the Off Loading of Sensitive News Stock Items ...

        With all those random caps and unintelligible post overall, forget aliens, that's crude AI (I stand to be corrected).

        1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: A SMARTR AIMovement ..... with the Off Loading of Sensitive News Stock Items ...

          With all those random caps and unintelligible post overall, forget aliens, that's crude AI (I stand to be corrected).

          amanfromMars is a long-running (>10 years) "semantic web" AI experiment.

          1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            Re: A SMARTR AIMovement ..... with the Off Loading of Sensitive News Stock Items ...

            amanfromMars is a long-running (>10 years) "semantic web" AI experiment. ... Sorry that handle is already taken.

            Which has Morphed/Evolved/Developed/Grown into Stealthy SMARTR Programming with Live Operational Virtual Environment Applications in Advanced IntelAIgent Fields/Exploratory Missionary CyberSpace AIdVentures, Sorry that handle is already taken?

            Would that be a Virulent and Vital rather than Venal and Venereal AIFork for the Future of Humanity to Ponder and Wonder at, and either Enjoy and/or be Terrified of, as IT and Media Hosting Channels are Guided to Wander through Deep and Dark Paths Bathed in the Light of an EMPowering COSMIC Understanding?

            1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

              Re: A SMARTR AIMovement ..... with the Off Loading of Sensitive News Stock Items ...

              So stealthy!

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: A SMARTR AIMovement ..... with the Off Loading of Sensitive News Stock Items ...

              Best reading. Ten years, post by post.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boring launches where nothing explodes...

    you only have to wait...

    I am sure stats will demonstrate one will turn into a flaming mushroom 1 in every 30 or so launches (at a guess)

    I am not sure we have reached the point where sitting something small on top of a really large controlled explosive is considered "safe".

    1. ravenviz

      Re: Boring launches where nothing explodes...

      I suppose at some point no form of travel is completely safe, it just comes down to statistics, or 'x' time since that <incident> last happened. It should be seen to stabilize at some point, no doubt with newsworthy punctuation.

  9. andyo

    2 billion in today's market

    I can readily appreciate the point that it's not worth the Russian state trying to compete over a 2 billion launch market. And it makes perfect sense for Musk/SpaceX to do so. But this misses 2 fundamental issues...

    i) SpaceX is only hoovering up the private launch market because it has ridiculously low prices. It wants the business to fund the greater goal of making humans a multiplanetary species. Many may scoff at this lofty ambition, but it's one that Russia ceded 40 years ago and one that NASA has squandered over the same time period. Musk/SpaceX WILL make it happen. NASA might go and plant a flag for some pointlessly expensive (political most likely) reason.

    ii) 2 billion is the launch market today. It will increase in size as rocket launches become more and more routine. Yes prices will fall, but the revenues and profits will increase. SpaceX is already a benign (defined as not maximising profits) monopoly (defined in economic terms as any supplier having at least 25% of a market). With an even larger share of the market and a much increased market, the revenues will vastly exceed 2 billion per year for launch services. SpaceX has only just started decimating the launch services industry. Ariane looks similarly doomed as well as ULA unless they really can get large parts of their Vulcan system reusable. There appears room for smaller rockets at the moment, but I suspect BFR will decimate that market too.

    1. Milton Silver badge

      Re: 2 billion in today's market

      Good to see someone's been paying attention.

      "Many may scoff at this lofty ambition, but it's one that Russia ceded 40 years ago and one that NASA has squandered over the same time period."[My bold]

      More than once I've got the commentard equivalent of an odd look when I've pointed out that Nasa has been the major obstacle to manned spaceflight since the mid-70s. I guess it does sound like an odd comment given Nasa's mission—but still, I stand by my assertion. Nasa has been the misunderstood and unappreciated football of ignorant politicians since 1965, and when you consider the constant interference, changing priorities, budget cuts and sheer stupidity deployed by US politicians, especially the cretins in Congress, it's amazing the agency ever launched anything. The fiasco that was Shuttle (remember the promise of cheap weekly flights with quick turnarounds?—Yeah, that Shuttle) consumed colossal sums in the name of simply bonkers levels of risk-aversity while still managing to kill two complete crews for entirely avoidable reasons, both examples of which led back to fatally compromised design and the gangrenous infection of Nasa's management with political idiots.

      A manned flight porgram that was less overtly risk-averse (astronauts are brave people who expect some level of danger, it's a test pilot thing) while concentrating on practical and frequent trips to ever-better orbital facilties would almost certainly (and ironically) have killed far fewer people for much greater results. Now Nasa and the USA are in the crushingly humiliating position of having to beg rides for their astronauts on Russian spacecraft. Truly, impressively pathetic failure for an agency and a nation that put men on the Moon when I was just nine years old.

      Which makes this line from the article a teensy bit ridiculous:

      There's a bit of realpolitik to consider here, too, because tension between the USA and Russia means the former nation isn't very keen on sending business Moscow's way.

      "Keen" or not, the US has absolutely no choice if it wants to keep sending people into orbit.

      Yes, Russia is leaving the market because SpaceX is achieving things that Nasa's bureaucracy would have prevented for a century, and Russia expects that it and China will just steal all the data they need and replicate the technology for their own use when they need it. Reaction Engines will come along later with stuff we should have been working on since 1961 (they'll steal all of that data too) and finally—at last!—the world will have access to space it ought to have had 30 years ago.

      In the bunker containing the Chinese filing system for stolen western blueprints "Falcon" comes right after "F-35", but the former drawer has a note attached saying "May Be Useful"—while the latter is marked with the Chinese ideogram for "suicide" and padlocked shut.

      1. ravenviz
        Go

        Re: 2 billion in today's market

        A lot has changed since the start of manned spaceflight, not just in politics, directly in technology, and more recently the wherewithal and capability of private enterprise. Sure I think lessons can be learned from the past, and hindsight is always 20:20 but comments about the Shuttle program I think are unfair as this was undiscovered country, we really were not capable enough to produce a reusable spaceplane then, for all sorts of reasons. Maybe we still aren't, but I believe we are now getting somewhere. The methods and implementations find their own way and we should continue to look forward and embrace a probable kaleidoscope of orbital transfer vehicles. The first generally affordable car was but a single model, nowadays there are over a thousand different ones to choose from, in about a hundred years. Let's let time progress and watch the future come to us.

      2. Steve Hersey

        Re: 2 billion in today's market

        I agree with Milton's point about Chinese IP theft, but in this case I'm not especially worried about its consequences. Here's why: The US military establishment has a decent understanding that strategic control of space is an enormous military advantage. With that in mind, the competition from China, India and Russia for space launch capability represents a challenge they cannot ignore; keeping the USA's launch capability technologically competitive is thus a must-do thing from their point of view. (Who has an automated mini-Shuttle that can spend a year on-orbit?)

        So even if China steals lots of other folks' tech secrets, the competition for space capability will mean that the human species is back in space on an ongoing basis this time. The faster any one party advances, the harder the rest will work to keep up. From a species point of view, that's all to the good.

        The cheating and stealing are aggravating, but are at most a damned nuisance, and may even prove neutral to beneficial in the long run. Though we should still feed the bastards some subtly defective designs just to mess with their heads.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 2 billion in today's market

        The Shuttle was an economical failure, but not a technical one - it showed that a reusable vehicle was possible, and its "space workshop" capabilities are still unmatched. It could carry seven people for two weeks, plus a configurable open bay. They will be needed again in the near future if we want more manned structures in the space.

        The mistake was to consider it a cheaper commercial launcher for satellites. Its real purpose should have been to design and test the procedures to operate proficiently in space, maybe with a smaller fleet, using the savings to fix known issues earlier before they became fatal. Sure, Sojuz work, but without the Space Station they would be utterly useless. Shuttle was far more versatile on its own.

        The problem with risk is not because of astronauts lives - how many died and die on experimental planes? - it's because of media, which turn any incident into a Greek tragedy to sell more copies (or get more clicks), and politicians always ready to find an excuse to reroute the money to whatever can get them a re-election and personal gain...

        1. defiler Silver badge

          Re: 2 billion in today's market

          The Shuttle was an economical failure, but not a technical one

          I'm going with this. It was a folly. A white elephant. I'll not argue against that, but what a tremendous achievement. NASA pushed the boundaries of what was actually possible, which was wonderful.

          Did it work? Yes.

          Did it work well? Yes.

          Did it work as advertised? No - not really.

          Did it achieve great things? Yes, look at the Hubble repair as the prime example.

          Did it achieve its quick turnaround? Not a chance.

          Did it achieve its reusability target? Not even close.

          Was it the most insanely expensive way to put a payload in orbit? By far.

          Was it flawed? In both design and execution.

          Still, when I was a lad I made a model Space Shuttle. Didn't want an Atlas. And I would have had a Buran before a Soyuz. I wonder how many bright minds turned to aerospace just off the sight of something so ludicrously magnificent.

          1. Orv Silver badge

            Re: 2 billion in today's market

            Many of the Shuttle's failings weren't because of NASA requirements, they were because of the Air Force, which asked for some very specific capabilities that drove up weight. One example is the Air Force wanted the Shuttle to be able to take off to put a classified satellite in polar orbit, abort, and land in the US after only a single orbit. This required something like 1000 miles of cross-range capability, which mandated a much larger wing. (Normally we think of the Shuttle's wing as holding it up against gravity, but with a steep bank angle it could also be used to translate it sideways by large amounts.)

            I wouldn't say risk aversion as such was the issue. The Shuttle was highly redundant, true, but mostly not to a greater extent than, say, a modern fly-by-wire airliner. Its design of having three flight computers, so that two good ones could outvote one bad one, is still a common technique for critical systems. To quote Akin's Laws, "To design a spacecraft right takes an infinite amount of effort. This is why it's a good idea to design them to operate when some things are wrong."

            I do think the Shuttle demonstrated that reusability isn't necessarily a killer idea. At some point making the components reusable adds enough weight and complexity that it's actually cheaper to throw them out and make new ones, as counterintuitive as that seems. The tyranny of the rocket equation means that you pay dearly for every extra pound on your payload.

            1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

              Re: 2 billion in today's market

              but it's one that Russia ceded 40 years ago

              Earlier than that. Some of what Musk is doing can be found in Tsiolkovski 1920-es blueprints. Russia squandered and ceded that from the very start and kept on ceding.

              Every time Korolev tried to ask for resources to work on reusability he was slapped across the wrist.

              The Russians have not completed any of their more interesting designs since he passed away. Things like Bor4/Uragan, etc were never finished and resources were squandered on copying the Shuttle instead of that. After that they have been coasting on USSR laurels and doing minimal improvements ceding even further and it is bound to continue. For all practical purposes they do not have money for anything more than that.

        2. andyo

          Re: 2 billion in today's market

          Cheap is all relative. Shuttles worked out at 1500 million each (1.5 billion). ULA is around 400 million, and Spacex advertises 62 million (which will get you a crew to LEO/ISS).

          BFR is slated to wipe the floor with all of these solutions. Elon's talking about 5 million launches (over time). Lets say he just undercuts Falcon to start with at say 50 million.

          NASA's new SLS is going to run to about 1000 million (1 billion) per flight for comparison. And better still, NASA have spent about 8 billion so far for some very nice pictures of that big rocket.

      4. ChrisPv

        Re: 2 billion in today's market

        You are unfair to NASA bureaucracy. Space X creation was thanks to long term thinking of the NASA, who by sponsoring Ansari X prize and sending contracts Space X way ensured that Space X grow to where it is today. NASA never stated this publicly, but I believe that they were tired of current, expensive suppliers.

        1. andyo

          Re: 2 billion in today's market

          NASA's cargo resupply contracts and funding of rocket engines has been the single most spectacularly successful investment they have ever made in space vehicles. Crew supply contracts look like they'll yield equally impressive results. NASA didn't so much plan those results as accidentally achieve them. They didn't have a lot of money, they took a bit of a gamble and it's paid off brilliantly.

          I thought the Ansari prize was wholly funded by the Ansari family.

      5. andyo

        Re: 2 billion in today's market

        Fortunately, uncle Sam is about to wean himself off Russian crew supply. And with two options too. Full up, i.e. 7 astronauts per vehicle (mind, Elon could do one up), it'll be cheaper than the non benign monopoly the Russians have been running for the last 7 years.

    2. arctic_haze Silver badge

      Re: 2 billion in today's market

      "Yes prices will fall, but the revenues and profits will increase."

      If prices will fall, the only competitors with profit will be the cheapest ones. It is possible that Russia, with its reliable but technologically obsolete rockets, sees the possibility that it will be priced out of the market.

    3. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

      Re: 2 billion in today's market

      "Musk/SpaceX WILL make it happen."

      You sure? If they make "super" profits on their launches (to put in to the "To Mars!" kitty) then the other launch companies will look cheap. There's that launch company from New Zealand, for e.g. Then Musk will lose market share, prices will fall and the kitty won't get any larger. Mars will be no closer. At some point, shareholders will want returns, and I don't mean return journeys from Mars.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Funny, that's exactly what the UK decided when they cancelled Black Arrow.

    OTOH they have had 48 years to get good at building satellites and probes for other people.

    Historically people bought launches from Russia.

    Not so sure about the quality of their payload building.

    Even "Sea Launch" is now owned by a Russian regional airline (S7 IIRC. Although I'm sure that's not the # of passengers on their usual aircraft).

    1. andyo

      Re: Funny, that's exactly what the UK decided when they cancelled Black Arrow.

      And boy have 'we' got good at building those satellites. It's not something that we're about to cede to the Russians... the other 96% of space market:-)

  11. Orv Silver badge

    Launches are exactly the kind of small, capital-intensive market that naturally creates monopolies and duopolies. I expect the current situation of multiple providers won't last long; the winners will buy out the also-rans. Eventually it'll just be a merged Boeing-SpaceX or something like that.

  12. Gene Cash Silver badge

    "Nasa has been the major obstacle to manned spaceflight since the mid-70s"

    Yup. Who threw a huge shit-fit at Russian tourist missions to ISS, after promising "tickets to orbit" for 45 years?

    NASA!

    1. andyo

      In fairness to NASA, whom I find it easy to criticize, they have had unprecendented success in planetary exploration.

  13. YARR

    Anticipating the commercial end of conventional launchers like Soyuz is just market realism. But why not form an international partnership to compete with SpaceX in re-usables? If Russia pulls out of the launch market, their investment in Vostochny Cosmodrome will be in vain.

  14. Eduard Coli

    Without the Russian source where will Spacex get all of its working rockets from?

    1. andyo

      SpaceX builds one rocket engine per day in LA. ULA is the company with the Russian engines problem.

  15. JJKing Silver badge
    Coat

    New sauce for SpaceX

    Without the Russian source where will Spacex get all of its working rockets from?

    I believe Professor Weirdo and Count Kook have some Sinister Sauce that may be available.

    Mine's the coat with the 5 drop capacity spoon in the pocket.

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