Posted on behalf of Chris Palmer.
Russia will give its Roscosmos space programme a whopping US$52-billion boost between now and 2020 in an effort to maintain its position as a leading space power.
The announcement came from Russian President Vladimir Putin as he told cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station on Friday that Russia will send up the first mission from its new Vostochny launch pad by 2015. Russia has been developing the Vostochny cosmodrome in the Russian Far East as a way to reduce dependency on the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Putin added that the first manned missions would launch in 2018, with “super-heavy” rockets capable of missions to the Moon ready by 2020.
Experts think that Putin’s timeline is optimistic, but mostly achievable. “The fact that they’re putting money into it is good,” says Louis Friedman, former director of the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California. But money alone will not guarantee success, he adds. “They need to eliminate a lot of the waste and corruption that’s been endemic in their industry.”
George Abbey, senior fellow for space policy at the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston, Texas, agrees that Russia has a long way to go to return to its former glory, given recent missteps such as the failure of its Phobos-Grunt Mars probe in 2011. However, he sees Friday’s announcement as a positive step. “Russia’s number one today,” says Abbey.
Although Abbey thinks that manned launches from Vostochny by 2018 are well within reach, he is less confident about Russia’s lunar goals. “I don’t know if they’re going to get to the Moon on that $50 billion,” he says.
John Logsdon, professor emeritus of space policy at George Washington University in Washington DC, is also sceptical of the lunar timeline, and says that building a new heavy-lift rocket in seven years is ambitious. “However, they are throwing a hell of a lot of money at it,” he says. Logsdon adds that space accomplishments are part of Russia’s national pride and the new plan is a “signal to the world that they are still an advanced country”.