Private astronautics in Russia: what can domestic non-state space companies offer?

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Private astronautics in Russia: what can domestic non-state space companies offer?
Private astronautics in Russia: what can domestic non-state space companies offer?

There are also private companies in the space industry in Russia. They are building satellites, developing rockets, and in the plans - habitable bases on the moon and space tourism. Although there are very few of them, it is worth telling about them, their achievements and projects.


Sputniks - the first private satellite and small spacecraft

Spacecraft are of two types - large and small. And the latter are increasingly being used. The microsatellite TabletSat-Aurora, designed and built by the Russian company Sputniks, is just that. Its weight is only 26 kg. The term of active existence is 2 years. It is believed to be the first satellite designed and built by a private Russian company.

TabletSat-Aurora was launched into orbit on June 19, 2014. Due to its small size and mass, it went into space not alone, but as part of a cluster of 33 mini-satellites on the RS-20 Dnepr conversion launch vehicle. The device was launched into a sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 600 km. This orbit allows the spacecraft to pass over any point on the surface at approximately the same local solar time. This is useful for creating satellite images of the earth's surface. The main purpose of TabletSat-Aurora is remote sensing of the Earth. The satellite's equipment takes images with a resolution of 15 meters, with a swath width of 47 kilometers in nadir.

LLC Satellite Innovative Space Systems (Sputniks) has been a resident of the Skolkovo space cluster since 2012. The Foundation financed the development of subsystems for satellites of a new form factor "TabletSat" with a grant in the amount of 29.5 million rubles. In early 2014, before the launch of the Aurora, the company put into operation a ground-based satellite control complex.


Satellite "TabletSat-Aurora"

Today the company develops small spacecraft (microsatellites, nanosatellites, cubesat satellites) and service systems for them, stations for controlling and receiving satellite information, ground infrastructure for functional tests. In addition, the company produces equipment for projects in the field of additional aerospace education for schoolchildren and students, as well as training of specialists in the space industry.

Lin Industrial - ultralight space rockets and base on the moon

If there are small satellites, then why not also small rockets? Another resident of the Skolkovo space cluster, Lin Industrial, is working on several projects for light and ultralight launch vehicles.

The main project of the company is the Taimyr ultralight launch vehicle. This is not even one, but a whole family of modular rockets capable of launching loads weighing from 10 to 180 kg into low-earth orbit. The first commercial launch of a rocket with a satellite on board was planned for the first quarter of 2020.


But, just like the developers of heavier missiles, Lin Industrial also had accidents. The firing tests of the company's first liquid-propellant rocket engine RDL-100S Atar, which took place in December of the year before last, can hardly be called successful. The engine exploded 4 seconds after the start of work. In addition to the engine, the test bench was also damaged.

The company was not limited to the creation of missiles. Thoughts of its engineers about the satellite of our planet - the Moon, which is not surprising.Lin Industrial employs members of the Selenokhod team - the only Russian team that took part in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition, in which the main prize is to be received by the group that created and sent to the moon a private lunar rover.

Lin Industrial engineers have also developed a project for a Russian lunar base, which can be implemented using existing technologies. The project was named "Moon Seven", which implies that this will be the seventh manned landing on the Moon (after 6 flights under the Apollo program). Some of the proposals from this project were included in the Federal Space Program for 2016–2025. Project presentation by link.


Unfortunately, quite recently the project stopped receiving funding and today there is a question of closing the project.

Dauria Aerospace - first money and geostationary satellite

Another small satellite manufacturer is Dauria Aerospace. But, unlike other Russian private companies, in this industry Dauria has already received its first significant income from space activities. Two satellites of the company - Perseus-M1 and Perseus-M2, intended for remote sensing of the Earth, were sold in December 2015 to the American Aquila Space. The spacecraft changed their owners at the very moment when they were in orbit.

The company develops a wide range of small satellites designed for various orbits and purposes. The third Dauria Aerospace satellite launched into space was DX1, the first spacecraft based on the DX small satellite platform (up to 50 kg), created by the company's specialists. The purpose of the spacecraft is to test experimental technologies. The satellites themselves based on this platform can be used for a wide range of tasks: from remote sensing of the Earth to relaying signals.


But while the DX satellites are designed for low Earth orbit, the Pyxis project envisions a network of telecommunications satellites for highly elliptical orbits. Such orbits, with an apogee over the northern hemisphere of the planet tens of thousands of kilometers high, make it possible to provide communication in the circumpolar regions of the Earth. Four spacecraft of the satellite constellation were supposed to go into space by 2020. They were supposed to provide satellite Internet access to ten thousand users: residents of the circumpolar Russian regions, polar scientists, oil workers, crews of ships of the Northern Sea Route.

But perhaps the most advanced project of Dauria Aerospace is the development of the ATOM platform for the creation of geostationary spacecraft. Generally, satellites for geostationary orbit are large and heavy. But the mass of spacecraft created on the ATOM platform will not exceed 1 ton. This will allow them to be put into orbit at a lower cost. In addition, such devices are perfect for serving small and medium-sized markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, where the use of heavier and more expensive satellites is unprofitable. In addition, several such satellites can be launched into orbit at once or along the way with another cargo.


Another feature of the platform is the use of only electric jet engines both for putting the satellite into geostationary orbit from a low reference orbit, to which the rocket will deliver it, and for keeping it in a stationary position on the geostationary.


The first pair of such satellites were planned to be sent into space by the end of 2017 on the Indian GSLV Mk II launch vehicle.

Unfortunately, now the company has big problems, the details of which are told in an interview by the founder of the project (in the video below). He himself considers the creation of the company his biggest mistake: There are several large space countries in the world - with a large space budget and ambitions. These are the USA, Europe, China, Japan, Russia. At the same time, the entire industry is state-owned, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of the fact that all work is performed by state-owned companies. We were really helped.Dauria was helped by both Skolkovo and Rusnano. But now I understand how naive I was. This was my biggest mistake in life [creating Dauria in Russia]. A company of this kind can only exist in two situations. Either if there is strong support from the state, which gives orders, builds into structures, as is done for Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, and so on, or when there is an opportunity to work for a large open world market, taking advantage of the country's advantages. And, of course, I did not sign up for the fact that after 2014 we will be cut off from the world market.

"CosmoCourse" - excursion to the "Gagarin" orbit

They plan to send tourists into space not only overseas. The goal of the Russian company CosmoCourse LLC is to create a reusable suborbital complex for sending tourists into space. The first such tourist flight should take place as early as 2025. The spacecraft, designed for six tourists and one instructor, will be launched to the altitude of the Vostok-1 spacecraft, on which Yuri Gagarin once flew - from 180 to 220 km. But, unlike the first astronaut of the Earth, the spacecraft will not enter orbit around the planet, the flight will be suborbital - as was once performed by Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut.

The company's space complex will consist of a launch vehicle and a suborbital spacecraft, which are separated at 141 seconds of flight upon reaching an altitude of 66.4 km. Both the ship and the rocket will naturally be reusable. The flight itself will take only 15 minutes, of which 5 minutes, at the apogee of the flight trajectory, passengers will be in zero gravity. It is planned to carry out about 120 launches per year, that is, to send 700 people into space annually. This is 2 launches per week.


Now the project is still only on paper. But the tactical and technical assignment for the implementation of the preliminary project (preliminary plan) developed by KosmoKurs has already passed the necessary approval procedure at Roscosmos. The total cost of the project will be $ 150-200 million. A ticket for such a space excursion is expected to cost between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000.

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