Russia emerging as SpaceX rival

It wasn’t so long ago that Russia enjoyed a major portion of the ‘West’s’ satellite launching demands via its Proton rockets, as well as its regular Soyuz crew and re-supply flights to the International Space Station (ISS).

The arrival of SpaceX has changed the launching dynamic considerably. This year, to date, Russia has supplied 17 orbital launches, and according to specialist news-site Ars-Technica, about one third of these flights have been commercial contracts for the likes of International Launce Services (ILS), and helping to earn hard cash for the Russian space effort.

However, SpaceX has, to date, managed 16 launches this year – and brought many of the its Falcom-9 rocket first stages back to Earth (or SpaceX’s floating landing barges).

Russia is planning its Soyus-5 ‘next generation’ rocket system which will be a 3-stage rocket and likely to enter service by late 2021. But as the Ars-Technica article points out, between now and 2021 SpaceX will also upgrade its Falcon 9 rockets, and their planning calls for higher launch weights, more efficient recovery and reuse and boosting the rocket’s payload to a massive 23 tonnes to LEO orbit.

Nevertheless, Russia is going ahead. At the end of July the Russian government’s Roskosmos space agency confirmed that RKK Energia would be the sole prime contractor for the Soyuz-5 booster. The preliminary designs should be wrapped by December 15th.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is reportedly on the verge of winning a NASA re-supply mission to the ISS. There’s nothing unusual in that, except that this cargo mission would use one of SpaceX’s pre-flown (“flight proven”) first stages. NASA says that it has been considering its options for the past year, and a planned flight on December 4th.

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