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Space developments in 2015
The Russian space industry entered 2015 in a midst of a deepening economic recession, forcing the Kremlin to make a 10-percent cut in the nation's space budget. The government also fired the third head of Roskosmos in four years and launched another major restructuring of the agency. At the end of January, the newly appointed chief of the newly created Roskosmos State Corporation Igor Komarov said that despite worsening economic situation, an effort would be made to preserve all key projects and limit the effect from funding cuts only to schedules. According to Russian military officials, Russia operated more than 120 spacecraft in orbit as of 2015.
The world's orbital launch attempts in 2015 (as of November 23, 2015 ):
The 2015 space launch score card (as of November 23, 2015 ):
Dec. 2: A Proton-M/Briz-M rocket to launch a Garpun classified data-relay satellite for the Russian Ministry of Defense from Pad 24 at Site 81 in Baikonur. The mission was previously scheduled for February 20 and the middle of July 2015. By the end of October, the launch was postponed from the end of November to Dec. 2, 2015.
Dec. 11: A Zenit-3SLBF/Fregat-SB to launch the Elektro-L No. 2 weather-forecasting satellite into geostationary orbit from Baikonur. The launch of Elektro-L2 was previously expected during 2014 but the mission was eventually delayed to February 2015 and continued being postponed due to political problems between Russia and Ukraine. By the end of September 2015, the launch had to be postponed from November 18 until at least mid-December 2015, as Russian and Ukrainian space agencies tried to work out a deal with their respective governments, which would allow the Ukrainian team to travel to Baikonur to support the mission. The Elektro-L No. 2 spacecraft and its Fregat-SB upper stage were shipped to Baikonur on October 16 onboard an An-124 transport plane. At the time, the launch was expected on December 11, 2015. Roskosmos promised the fueling of the Fregat on October 23.
Dec. 20: A Proton-M/Briz-M rocket to launch the Ekspress-AMU1 communications satellite from Baikonur. The mission was previously planned in September or October 2015. The satellite arrived at Baikonur around Nov. 11.
Dec. 21: A Soyuz-2-1a rocket to launch Progress MS-1 (No. 431) from Baikonur to the ISS. (This mission was previously promised in 2014. In November 2014, the launch was planned for October 26, 2015. After the loss of Progress M-27M, the mission was rescheduled for November 21 at 23:29:36 Moscow Time. By mid-October, the launch was re-scheduled for December 21, 2015.)
Dec. 23: A Rockot booster to launch the Sentinel-3A remote-sensing satellite from Plesetsk. As of January 2014, the mission was postponed from October 2014. The launch was later scheduled for June 2015 and by August 2015, was planned on November 7, 2015. By October, the mission was postponed from Dec. 10 to Dec. 23, 2015.
During the 2010s, four annual missions of the Soyuz spacecraft had to be conducted every year to rotate crews onboard the International Space Station, ISS. In order to fly additional commercial passengers, the so-called "fifth" or "tourist" Soyuz would be needed during each particular year.
"Tourist" Soyuz promised but continuously delayed
Published: 2008 June 12; updated: June 20, July 2; 2009 Jan. 23, May 30; 2010 June 22; 2011 Aug. 26; 2012 Aug. 27
In 2008, the head of Russian space agency first flatly denied an announcement by US businessmen about the possibility of another tourist mission to the ISS.
On June 11, 2008, a private contractor selling seats onboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft claimed that it would finance a dedicated tourist mission to the International Space Station, ISS, in 2011. The Soyuz flight, carrying one professional cosmonaut and two paid tourists, would be conducted in addition to regular launches financed by the Russian government. In the past, Russian authorities only allowed tourists to take a single seat onboard taxpayers' paid missions, to offset the cost of the cash-strapped Russian space program. However with the station construction nearly completed and its long-duration crew scheduled to increase from three to six, the regular Soyuz missions would have no seats available for paid passengers.
Although popular Western press hailed the latest claims about the dedicated tourist space mission as a new breakthrough in orbital commerce, the head of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov said he had no information on such plans. In the official statement published on the agency's web site, Perminov said that "there is simply no seats for space tourists." Possibly, he referred to already scheduled missions, rather than a dedicated commercial flight. As of June 12, RKK Energia, a Russian company, which builds and operates the Soyuz spacecraft, neither confirmed or denied claims made by its US-based salesmen. At the very least, the situation indicated a breakdown of communications between the Russian space agency, its main contractor and its overseas sales representatives.
Even if such mission does take place, skeptics believe that "private investors" would still use Russian taxpayers' money to pay for the full infrastructure of the manned space flight, including the spacecraft, its rocket booster, the network of ground control stations and other services. Observers also point out a potential minefield "commercial" missions present for relations between space station partners. Even though Russia does not publicly disclose amounts it charges its private clients for joy rides in space, these rates are apparently lower than those paid by NASA and other space station partners for transporting their crew members to the ISS.
In 2011, Russia plans to conduct four manned missions of the Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS to support permanent occupation of the outpost by rotating international crews. The additional tourist mission would mean five manned launches that year. Currently, Russia conducts two manned missions annually, however in 1980, six piloted Soyuz spacecraft lifted off to support Salyut-6 orbital station.
Commenting on the situation, Yuri Makushenko, Director of Business Development at RKK Energia told RussianSpaceWeb.com that "the door to the fifth (additional) Soyuz launch in 2011 or 2012 has not been closed provided necessary funding." Makushenko said that such option was evaluated at RKK Energia, however the project had been at the very initial stage and no actual production work on the Soyuz ship for the fifth mission in 2011 had taken place. He explained the contradictory statements by Roskosmos as a possible misunderstanding.
Only on July 2, 2008, Roskosmos finally confirmed that an agreement with an unnamed private investor had been reached to start funding the construction of a dedicated spacecraft for a possible tourist mission in 2011. Terms of the agreement with the investor envisioned further tourists flights beyond 2011, the agency said. However in the January 2009 interview, (321) head of Roskosmos Anatoly Perminov, yet again, reiterated that Russian "tourist missions" to the ISS would end in 2009. And yet again, Perminov failed to mention any dedicated private Soyuz missions.
At the May 29, 2009, press-conference at the mission control in Korolev, the head of manned space flight of Roskosmos Aleksei Krasnov said that the construction of the "fifth" Soyuz spacecraft to be launched during a single year, in addition to four scheduled ships for the ISS program, was still under consideration, however it could take place in 2013, at the earliest. In June 2010, Krasnov elaborated that the first funding for the construction of the "fifth" ship would be advanced to RKK Energia before the end of the year. He mentioned commercial missions ordered by the Canadian space agency, as one of the potential customers of the additional spacecraft. In April 2011, Perminov confirmed that the "fifth" annual Soyuz could fly for the first time in 2013, adding that Russia could launch five manned missions once every two-three years. However behind the scene Roskosmos officials said that they had been unwilling to spend any federal money on the production of the "tourist" Soyuz and private investors had yet to fund the mission. Still in August 2011, the head of RKK Energia, Vitaly Lopota, told the Interfax new agency that the production of the "fifth" Soyuz had been in the initial stage and it could conduct a tourist mission in 2014. However in August 2012, Lopota said that only if the approval and funding for the mission was granted before the end of the year, the tourist flight could take place at the end of 2015.
This page is compiled by Anatoly Zak
Last update: November 23, 2015
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A new-generation Bars-M satellite was launched on Feb. 27, 2015.
Proton rocket returns to flight with Inmarsat-5 F3 satellite on August 28, following a launch accident on May 16. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz-ST-B/Fregat-MT rocket lifts off on Sept. 10, 2015, with a pair of Galileo FOC-M3 satellites. Click to enlarge. Credit: Arianespace
Artist rendering depicting separation of between Ekspress-AM8 and Block-DM03. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2015 Anatoly Zak
First engine firing of the Briz-KM stage during the delivery of the Rodnik trio. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2015 Anatoly Zak
After years of delays, the first EKS (Tundra) satellite was finally launched on November 17. Copyright © 2015 Anatoly Zak