Russia revives plans to create reusable rocket

Russia revives plans to create reusable rocket Photo: Alexander A. Karsakbayev

Although Russia has dominated in commercial space launch for decades, its leadership has recently been undermined due to intense rivalry from private space corporations like SpaceX and to numerous failures entailing low consumer confidence. In order to reduce the gap, the country intends to start testing its own reusable rocket at the beginning of the next decade.

Russia is developing a reusable rocket that will fly back to Earth like an aeroplane in an effort to keep up with competitors in the new Space Race, says The Telegraph. The new spacecraft is developed by the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects (FPI) in partnership with the Roscosmos space agency and the United Aircraft Corporation. The project envisages the launch of the rocket, which hasn't yet been named, in 2022.

According to Boris Satovsky, the project manager at the FPI, the first stage of the rocket is meant to separate at an altitude of 59-66 kilometres and return to the launch area by landing on a usual runway. Thus, Russian space agency's approach to reusable rockets significantly differs from techniques used by Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin company, as their rockets are designed to land vertically with their engines.

Another key difference of the new Russian rocket from its foreign counterparts is the size of the vehicle. According to the project, the rocket will be capable of lifting no more than 600 kilogrammes of payload to orbit, which places it decidedly in the lightweight category, while SpaceX and Blue Origin compete in heavyweight.

SpaceX reusable rockets are designed to land vertically. Photo: SpaceX

Critics also say that the expected 2022 launch date may be too late for Russia to carve out a meaningful share of the market. This year, Russia is expected to account for no more than 10% of the commercial satellite launch market, while SpaceX is likely to grab as much as 50%. Elon Musk is claiming a test of his reusable Mars rocket by the end of this decade. Although he is known for radically overpromising delivery dates, it still seems that Russia is very far behind. The country was working on reusable rockets in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the project was scrapped at the end of the century when the government decided not to fund it.

Since then, Russia has wavered on whether to enter the reusable rocket rivalry. In recent years, Russia has struggled to fund its space programme at sustainable levels because of the budget deficit. However, space exploration is fundamentally tied into the identity of the nation that opened the space age in the 1950s, so various efforts are underway to save the programme from irrelevance, considers The Telegraph.

By Anna Litvina