Putin slashes Russia’s space budget and says he expects better results

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Alexey Druzhinin / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images

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Russia plans to reduce funding for spaceflight activities during the coming three-year period from 2022 to 2024. The reduction will be about 16 percent annually, many Russian publications, Finanz.ru . including, report good. (These Russian-language articles were translated by Rob Mitchell for Ars.)

For 2022, the state budget for space activities will be set at 210 billion rubles ($2.9 billion), down 40.3 billion rubles ($557 million) from the previous year. Similar deductions will happen in subsequent years. The most significant reduction would be in areas such as “manufacturing-technical activities” and “universe development”.

Publications say Russian President Vladimir Putin is unhappy with the performance of Russia’s space program. At a space industry meeting on September 29, they report, Putin criticized the industry’s failure to fulfill directives on long-term goals in the space sector. For example, in 2020, Roscosmos failed to hit 30 of the national space program’s 83 declared targets.

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Putin has reportedly told the Russian space corporation, Roscosmos, that it should increase the reliability of Russian rockets and “master” the next generation of launch vehicles. The directive comes in response to increasing competition in the global space launch business, particularly from US-based SpaceX.

However, these budget cuts will further constrain Roscosmos leader Dmitry Rogozin. He’s already facing budgetary pressure from the loss of income from flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station — a project that has cost about $400 million or more — as well as the United Launch Alliance now RD-180 is not buying rocket engines.

The cut also raises questions about the future of Roscosmos, which has been reorganized on several occasions during the past decade. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Roscosmos served a similar function to NASA. As a space agency, it had a number of contractors who provided services and built rockets, spacecraft, and satellites. The largest of these were RKK Energia, The Khrunichev Center, RCC Progress, NPO Energomash, Tsenki and Tsenymash.

In 2013, Russia re-nationalized its space industry and converted contracting companies into state-owned and operated corporations. Three years later, the Russian National Space Agency was dissolved and merged into Roscosmos State Corporation, which became the parent company for state-owned space companies.

Rogozin became the head of Roscosmos in 2018, and last year he reorganized his subsidiaries into business blocks.

In recent years, Roscosmos has been plagued by corruption In its efforts to build a major new spaceport in the eastern part of the country. In 2019, before Putin was imprisoned, opposition leader Alexei Navalny accused widespread corruption in the Russian space enterprise and detailed how Rogozin has enriched himself personally.

According to documents uncovered by Navalny, Rogozin used Roscosmos funding to buy a Mercedes-Benz S560 for himself and a Range Rover for his wife. Combined, the value of these vehicles is approximately $300,000. The head of Roscosmos then acquired an 8,600-square-foot dacha north of Moscow worth about $3 million. And the documents seem to obscure the benefits even more, Navalny argued.

Rogozin has denied these allegations. And frankly, for a Western-based journalist who doesn’t speak Russian or fully understand Russian politics, it can be difficult to separate truth from lies. But what seems clear is that the future of the Russian space program is bleak. While China is growing with a space station of its own and ambitious new exploration plans and the US space industry is thriving amid increased commercial activity, Russia is seeking to maintain the status quo of space vehicles developed decades ago.

The country’s space workers are already being paid extremely low salaries. Now, there will be fewer resources to invest in—a future in which Putin has accused Rogozin of leading Russia’s space program. This could not be a comfortable position for a certain Dmitry Olegovich Rogozin.

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