Roscosmos Details Russia’s Struggling Space Sector
PARIS — Russia’s space industry reported a 13 percent decline in export revenue in 2014 but is otherwise midway through a broad restructuring designed to improve quality control, the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, said.
Export revenue totaled 4.374 billion rubles in 2014, the agency said. It was not until late 2014 that the ruble began a spectacular slide against the U.S. dollar. It has recovered somewhat in recent weeks.
The agency said Russia’s space sector, which including industry and scientific enterprises counted 238,000 employees in 2014, has made good on all its international commitments — starting with the International Space Station — but is still struggling to bring young people into the business.
The agency said the average age of a space-sector employ in 2014 was 45, with 44 percent over 50 years old and 22.3 percent 30 years old or younger.
In a summary of its April 14 board meeting reviewing space-sector performance in 2014 and goals for the coming years, Roscosmos said among its highest priorities is “the unconditional fulfillment of international obligations in space activities with work performed on the International Space Station.”
Russia operates four modules on the space station and, through treaty-level commitments and paid service contracts with the other space station partners — the United States, Japan, Europe and Canada — has agreed to continue regular flights of Soyuz manned capsules and Progress unmanned supply vehicles.
In 2014, four Soyuz launches carried 12 crewmembers to the space station. Twelve astronauts were returned to Earth during the year. Four Progress launches delivered more than 10,000 kilograms of cargo to the station, and Soyuz returned 200 kilograms of cargo and experiment hardware to Earth.
Russia’s intentions regarding the space station at a time of tension with its partners over Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine has been a subject of debate. Roscosmos has said it will operate the station with NASA and the other partners until 2024 before separating the Russian-owned segments and beginning work on a Russia-owned complex in low Earth orbit.
But Roscosmos said it also plans to increase Russia’s presence at the current space station with the addition of three new modules to be launched between 2015 and 2018. Launch of the first of these, the Multipurpose Logistics Module (MLM), has been repeatedly delayed. Roscosmos said anomalies in the MLM propulsion system were not yet resolved in 2014 but should be fixed in 2015, paving the way to a launch.
Roscosmos said the level of maintenance and repair needed on Russia’s current four modules at the station is within what was forecast.
Space station managers have said the facility should be usable — meaning that the cost and astronaut time needed for maintenance and repair work can be kept to reasonable levels — until 2028. So far, only NASA and Russia have said they intend to continue operating the facility to 2024.
The Russian government in 2014 created a new entity, called Joint Stock Company United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) with a broad mandate to reorganize the industry.
The 238,000 employs are spread over 94 organizations, of which 20 percent are classed as industrial organizations and 64.2 percent as scientific and engineering entities. The remaining 15.8 percent is labeled “other.”
The space sector’s infrastructure continues to be far larger than what is needed. Capacity utilization was 52.4 percent in 2013, 49.9 percent in 2014 and will be 50.1 percent in 2015, according to Roscosmos.
The science and engineering research organizations pay on average 30 percent more than their industrial counterparts. Roscosmos said that salaries are expected to rise by around 6 percent. Russia’s inflation rate has shot up with the ruble’s decline and has averaged 16 percent since the beginning of the year, which is more than double the rate of 2014.
Key to the Russian government’s goal of being able to launch all types of space missions from its national territory is the Vostochny spaceport in Russia’s Far East. Work there has been slowed in recent months by allegations of corruption among site managers and more recently strikes by workers complaining of nonpayment of salaries.
Roscosmos said the first flight of a Soyuz-2 rocket from Vostochny is scheduled for 2015 as part of the spaceport’s first phase of development. As of Dec. 31, the overall readiness of the facility for Soyuz operations was 71 percent. As of late March it was 76 percent, Roscosmos said. But housing development has not progressed since the beginning of the year, remaining at 30 percent of what is needed.