Russia Plans to Boost Launch Rate, Revenues from Space Station

Igor Komarov (Credit: Russia Forum)

Speaking a day after SpaceX successfully re-flew a previously used Falcon 9 first stage, Russian space officials sought to reassure the public about the nation’s lagging launch rate and outlined plans to increase revenues from  the International Space Station (ISS).

On Friday, Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said Russia was aiming for more than two dozen launches this year.

“We will conduct at least 30 launches from the Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny and Kourou space centers this year,” Komarov said at a meeting of the Expert Council of Russia’s Military-Industrial Committee.

With one quarter of the year completed, Russia has conducted two launches.

Last year, the nation slipped to third in launches behind the United States and China, with 18 successes in 19 attempts. It was the nation’s lowest launch number in years.

In recent months, the Russian space program has been affected by defects in engines manufactured for its two main launch vehicles, the Proton and Soyuz. Proton has been ground for 10 months after a second-stage anomaly during a launch last June.

Also on Friday, General Designer of Manned Space Systems Yevgeny Mikrin said Russia will increase revenues from its use of the space station.

In his words, ways of boosting incomes are “offering services of transportation to the ISS for astronauts from partner countries, selling seats and cargo kilograms aboard spacecraft, organizing commercial experiments, and space tourism services.”

Currently, Russia is the only country flying astronauts to the space station using its Soyuz spacecraft. Boeing and SpaceX are developing crew vehicles that could be certified to carry astronauts to ISS by the end of 2018.

Once those vehicles are operating, seats would be freed up on Soyuz spacecraft that could be sold to space tourists and astronauts from other countries.

Russia will reduce the number of its own cosmonauts on the space station from three to two beginning later this year as a cost-saving measure. Some of the open seats will be filled by American astronauts under an unusual transaction.

Boeing obtained rights to five Soyuz seats as part of the settlement of a lawsuit against Russia’s RSC Energia and two Ukrainian firms over the Sea Launch joint venture. Boeing subsequently sold the seats to NASA.