Russia is losing ground in space

Russia may have been a space superpower in the twentieth century, but experts say that its star is falling as new competitors such as China and the U.S. private spaceflight industry eclipse it.
By Rick Docksai | Jan 15, 2019
Russia literally led the world into space in the twentieth century, when it launched the first-ever space satellite and, later, the first manned space mission. But recent trends suggest that it is losing its edge in the twenty-first to outside competitors, including China and the United States.

China's space program is deploying new rocket-launch systems and space vehicles with Russian technology. Chinese engineers are finalizing a working copy of the Soviet-designed RD-180 rocket engine, and the Shenzou space vehicle, which carried the first Chinese astronaut into space in 2003, incorporated technical systems from Russia's Soyuz vehicles.

Russia voluntarily sold China some space technologies, according to Michael Koffman, senior research scientist at CNA Corp. But Koffman suspects that Russia sold the technology out of desperation.

"Russian faces a difficult choice today on many technologies, understanding that the risk of selling them to China is offset but the realization that their counterpart is rapidly approaching a level of sophistication whereby they will in short order have comparable domestically produced variants. As such, it's a case of 'sell now or sell never'," Koffmansaid.

Koffman said that private spaceflight developers such as SpaceX are likely to take much of Roscosmos' space market share, as well. He said that while Roscosmos, the Russian space program, is world-class at lifting payloads into space, the market demand is shifting tosatellite technology and assembling systems in spaceareas where Roscosmos lags behind.

Russia's own space-vehicle programs, meanwhile, are hitting road bumps. The Soyuz program has spent nearly double its authorized budget while trying to develop the Federation, a new space vehicle for crewed flights. Federation is months behind schedule, however, and will not be on the upcoming launch of the first Soyuz-5 rocket as originally planned.


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