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Russia's and Europe's future in space

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Apr 4, 2007 11:57 am
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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov) – The popular 1967 Soviet comedy “The Caucasian Prisoner,” which is shown on Russian TV almost every six months, features a song about the benefits and drawbacks of having three wives.

Every man is free to decide how many wives he will have. But any comedy is bound to end sooner or later; and people must get back to work and tackle serious problems, such as steel smelting, ship-and-aircraft production and rocket launches.

In March, Russia continued to implement numerous military space programs and assessed the initial results of its space cooperation with the European Union. The official web site of the Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos) said on March 21 that the Agency had successfully hosted the second meeting of the Russia-EU Dialogue on Space.

Anyone who reads this report might wonder who has benefited from this dialogue. One also gets the impression that Roskosmos is a big fan of the above-mentioned comedy and still cannot decide how many reusable transport systems it really needs. This is a high-priority aspect of the Russian space program because reusable transport systems can accomplish all the objectives of near-Earth and long-range space missions. It appears, however, that three different reusable systems are now being contemplated.

Commenting on the “successful” meeting’s results, European Space Agency Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said both sides are now working to develop an entirely new transport system, which had not been designed yet. He suggested discussing this issue a year later because the future of this system is still in doubt. The ESA chief also distanced himself from the Kliper system and called it an entirely Russian invention.

This raises some doubts because Roskosmos kept saying until mid-2006 that the Kliper would be the mainstay of an advanced Russian space transport system. Although Moscow announced a tender for the new system’s spacecraft in early 2006, everyone knew long ago that the Energia Rocket & Space Corporation and its Kliper vehicle had no rivals. The Kliper’s specifications were repeatedly made public and its mock-ups displayed at aerospace shows everywhere from Tokyo to Paris and Berlin.

But the situation quickly changed in late June 2006, when senior Roskosmos officials announced at the Farnborough aerospace show that the tender had been stopped, and the new transport system would be developed under a multi-stage program. The projected system would be based on the time-tested Soyuz spacecraft.

In July 2006, Roskosmos director Anatoly Perminov explained this decision by the fact that the bidders’ R&D expenses differed greatly from those stipulated by Russia’s Federal Space Program for 2006-2015, and those costs could not be met without altering the Program.

Energia CEO Nikolai Sevastyanov said the Kliper spacecraft could be developed as soon as 2013. The company, which has mostly used extra-budgetary allocations to design the Kliper prototype, plans to submit its revamped version to Roskosmos by late 2006. However, Perminov said in December 2006 that the agency planned to launch the Kliper project in late 2012, implying that Roskosmos would accomplish nothing in the next five years.

“Neither Brussels nor Moscow knows anything about the joint space transport system’s future. So far, it’s all just talk,” Yury Zaitsev, an academic adviser at the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences, told RIA Novosti.

It appears that the EU is quite happy about this situation. On January 29, Laurence Nardon, director of the space policy program at the French Institute of International Relations, told Newsweek that a Russian revival would give the EU a better hand during talks with NASA because it would allow them to say they wanted to cooperate with the Russians.

Brussels may eventually decide to team up with NASA. So what should Russia, which faces bleak prospects in its cooperation with the EU, do until 2012? Should it overhaul the long obsolete Soyuz? The answer is unclear because the upgrading program has reportedly failed to make any headway.

…The song in the comedy “The Caucasian Prisoner” implies that being a bachelor is the best idea. Sorry, but key state projects do not amount to a comedy.

Copyright 2007 RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.

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