Sputnik is 55: What does the future hold for Russian space research?

Russia has inherited the USSR’s sophisticated space infrastructure, both in defence and scientific research and has managed to preserve its potential in this field.

Sputnik, the first artificial satellite of the Earth was launched from the Tura-Tam testing ground (now called the Baikonur space launch centre), on October 4, 1957. The Soviet space industry developed as a by-product of creating a nuclear missile shield and became one of the cornerstones of the USSR’s might during the Cold War period. At present, the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces built up on the basis of space troops are one of the most important elements of Russia’s military machine and their role will be growing with time.

Inherited power

At the peak of Soviet space exploration in the 1970s and 80s, the number of space launches could exceed 100 a year. Optical reconnaissance and radar ocean reconnaissance satellites, communication satellites and other types of satellites used for military purposes were the backbone of the Soviet Union’s spacecraft that were the ‘eyes, ears and sensitive nerves’ of the largest armed forces in the world.

Russia has inherited the USSR’s sophisticated space infrastructure, both in defence and scientific research. In spite of the difficult period between 1990 and 2000, Russia has managed to preserve its potential in this field, even though not in full volume. Today, in spite of the growing financial support, the industry is experiencing serious problems that could affect its further development. 

Personnel issue

All numerous problems have one origin, the shortage of staff. The full absence of engineering graduates in 1990-2000 has resulted in a shortage of professionals and has also complicated training new generations at factories and research centres where there are very few experts who can pass their experience to newcomers because university graduates of the 1990s looked for jobs anywhere except the space industry.

The personnel crisis has become one of the main reasons for the full-scale crisis in Russian space exploration. One of the signs of this crisis is a series of failures in recent years, even during routine launches. 

Hoping for the best

Nevertheless, there is a good potential for growth and a number of projects, now being carried out in Russian space research, could and should become starting points for the restoration of the industry’s high position. One of the most important projects is the programme of developing a new family of Angara carrier rockets. This development continued for the last 10 years when it was repeatedly announced that the launch was expected within 2-3 years. Now, finally, this sad practice is over and the launch of an Angara rocket is due in the spring or summer of 2013. Preparation of a launch pad for the new rocket is in full swing at the Plesetsk launching site.

Source: Jarrah White / IndiaRussiaTV - YouTube

Great success has been achieved in developing spacecraft of the new generation. The extension of the life span of GLONASS (the global navigation satellite system) equipment to 7 years has allowed using the full range of 24 GLONASS items and several stand-by pieces.

It is hard to overestimate the significance of this technology for military equipment. Satellites are becoming smaller in size, lighter in weight and also cheaper to manufacture, which gives grounds to hope for a considerable increase in their number in the future. Modern armed forces cannot exist without a sophisticated space infrastructure whose basis was laid down by the launch of the Sputnik on October 4, 1957.

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