The Future of Roscosmos Unclear as Challenges Mount

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 28

(Source: GK Launch Services)

Executive Summary:

  • Russia’s space program faces significant challenges, including heavy financial losses and a growing reliance on imported electronics
  • Roscosmos aims to develop its own space station and launch vehicles, but lacks clear strategies and faces obstacles in domestic production and adequate resource allocation.
  • The Kremlin is prioritizing the maintenance of manned and military space programs despite the difficulties, leading to an increased reliance on imported consumer-grade electronics for satellite production.

While Russia’s nuclear threat in low-Earth orbit got an unexpected confirmation directly from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, the head of Roscosmos, Russia’s state-owned space corporation, Yuri Borisov, appointed July 2022, said that he still hopes for some sort of US-Russia cooperation in manned spaceflights. He hopes for this even after the International Space Station (ISS) expressed confidence in the China-Russia space cooperation with reliance on Russia’s technologies of nuclear power systems for spacecraft and announced a bright future for Russia’s space activity. Roscosmos, however, is far from making these plans a reality. Generally speaking, Russia still does not know how to save its manned space program, and for satellite manufacturing, it must rely primarily on consumer-grade electronics, which are imported from China and the West (, February 19;, February 20; see EDM, February 20).

First, Borisov confirmed that Russia has no clear space strategy at all. His team revised the Russian space industry and program during his first year. Briefly speaking, an emergency plan for Roscosmos appeared just by mid-2023. This plan, however, started from an additional massive flow of money from the government into the space program.

In December 2022, Borisov said that, for the past year, Roscosmos had a 50-billion-ruble ($730 million)  net loss. This was compared to a 30-billion-ruble ($407 million) net loss in 2021. After the incorporation of governmental aid, the net loss in 2022 was revised and appeared to be 18 billion rubles ($263 million), and the net loss in 2023 was declared as 15 billion rubles ($177 million). Borisov said the anticipated net loss for 2022–2023 was 54 billion rubles, but today, it has been reevaluated as 33 billion rubles. These accounting tricks demonstrate that the financial “black hole” of Roscosmos is hardly manageable without emergency multi-billion cash flows from the federal budget (Vedomosti, December 21, 2022;, December 26, 2023;, February 19).

Within this turbulent financial environment, Russia’s manned space program is officially oriented toward a complete divorce from the United States and other ISS partners, whose money saved the Russian space industry in the 1990s. Russia plans to develop and deploy its own multi-module orbital station, new manned spacecraft, and new launch vehicles by 2030. These tasks together seem impossible without broad international cooperation despite the political and administrative will of Roscosmos leadership and the Kremlin.

Construction of the orbital module NEM (Science and Energy Module) was initially planned to be the last Russian module on the ISS. It is now scheduled to become the first module of the Russian Orbital Space Station, for which construction will begin only this year. The electronic components for this module, however, were imported at the beginning of the 2010s, before the sanctions. Russia even planned to import composite materials from Germany for its new manned spacecraft. Today, there is still no clear understanding of whether or not all the necessary materials besides the electronics can be produced domestically (, June 23, 2020; Kommersant, May 25, 2021; TASS, February 13, 2023; TASS, October 27, 2023;, accessed February 22, 2024).

Regarding launch vehicles, Borisov became the first Russian official who recognized the Angara family of launch vehicles, Angara-5 as a heavy rocket and Angara-1.2 as a light rocket. This family of launch vehicles has been in development since 1995 and was old-fashioned even before its operational status. Nevertheless, Angara-5 would be the only Russian heavy launch vehicle available for use in the foreseeable future, aimed mainly for use in the military space program. Russia’s focus today is replacing the Soyuz medium-class launch vehicle, which has been operational for more than 60 years, and the development of a new super-light launch vehicle aimed again at the military space program (, February 19).

The development of the “Amur-SPG” medium-class launch vehicle began in the first half of the 2010s. This rocket will use methane (liquid natural gas) and have a reusable first stage. It is planned to become operational by 2030, even though no working example of a methane engine exists. The details of the super-light launch vehicle remain unclear. Still, the appearance of this project means that Russia rejects the idea of converting intercontinental ballistic missiles into super-light and light launch vehicles, which it realized in the previous 30 years of the military space program and commercial launches. As a result, Russia again spreads limited and shrinking resources among several rocket projects. That means the Russian authorities still try to keep all the existing rocket and rocket engine factories and refrain from deeply restructuring Roscosmos despite the changing circumstances.

Satellite manufacturing remains the most vulnerable part of Russia’s space industry. The actual production rate is 15–17 satellites a year, and the only plan is to develop a series manufacturing of small and microsatellites (including the CubeSats) with a mass below 500 kilograms each. According to Borisov, the production rate would be 250 satellites annually. Russia cannot, however, produce all necessary space-grade electronics, and the reality is that Russian companies will be incapable of doing this anyway (, April 27, 2022; Interfax, February 16, 2023). That means the current Roscosmos plan for a series of satellite manufacturing inevitably presumes the massive import of consumer-grade electronic components from abroad because space-grade electronics are unavailable (or almost unavailable) to the Russian space industry, even in China.

As a result, after two years of war, Russia’s approach toward the space program is highly opportunistic. There are two main priorities. The first is to keep the manned space program at any cost. The second is to maintain the military space program by relying on a mass of short-living small- and micro-satellites made from imported consumer-grade electronic components.