In an effort to keep up with the likes of Elon Musk in the new space race, Russia’s space program says it is developing a reusable rocket that will fly back to Earth like an aeroplane.
Russia has watched its firm lead in space, particularly in the commercial sphere, steadily wither in recent years as SpaceX and other firms have severely undercut it. Consumer confidence is also waning as Russian rockets frequently, and unintentionally, return to Earth.
But the expected 2022 launch date may be too late for Russia to carve out a meaningful role in this latest frontier. Already, Musk is claiming a test of his reusable Mars rocket by the end of the decade. The billionaire investor is known for radically overpromising delivery dates, but Russia is very far behind.
For various reasons — though largely financial — Russia has wavered on whether or not to challenge Musk head on in the reusable rocket game. Russia struggles to fund its space program at sustainable levels. It is even harder to find money to sink into new tech.
Russia was working on reusable rockets in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But by the end of the decade project Baikal was scrapped when the government decided not to fund it.
Though Russia’s new reusable rocket has not yet been named, a description of the design was included in a press release from the Russia’s version of the American DARPA research agency on Monday.
“The first stage of the rocket will separate at an altitude of 59-66 kilometers and return to the launch area by landing on a usual runway,” project manager Boris Satovsky was quoted as saying in a statement published on the Foundation for Advanced Studies’ (FPI) website.
The Russian space agency's approach to reusable rockets that fly back to earth differs greatly from techniques demonstrated in recent years by Musk’s SpaceX company and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company. Both firms design rockets to land vertically with their engines.
FPI’s rocket is being developed in partnership with the Roscosmos space agency and one of Russia’s largest defense contractors, the United Aircraft Corporation.
But Satovsky’s new rocket is capable of carrying just 600 kilograms of payload into orbit — placing it decidedly in the lightweight category, far from direct competition with the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin.
As the nation that opened the space age in the 1950s, space exploration is fundamentally tied into Russia’s identity, and various efforts are underway to save the programme from irrelevance.
Оригинал: The Telegraph