Author: Cristina Semeraro – 23/11/2020
In June 2020, the US Department of Defense (DoD) developed the Defense Space Strategy (DSS) whose purpose is to preserve US space superiority and prepare the nation to compete with and sidestep the growing military powers of Russia and China.
In this regard, the document outlines the crucial significance of the space-domain in the national and international security. China and Russia face the battle field thanks to their development and deployment of counter-space strategies and have an armed space at their disposal which represents a major political and military challenge for the USA. Moreover, already in 2017, the US Senate Intelligence Committee claimed a special report stating that Russia and China would use the full range of capabilities in the space race to “reduce the US military effectiveness.”
However, one of the most serious problems identified by the document is the unsuitability of the American space companies on the current strategic context.
The spotlight on space wars has rekindled since the beginning of October 2020, when the Russian news agency TASS announced that the Russian national space agency, Roscosmos, was going to invest around 70 billion rubles (about 770 million euros) for the first Russian reusable rocket, Amur. On 5th October, Roscosmos and the Progress Space Rocket Center signed an agreement for the development of Amur-SPG concept, which should evolve into the design of the above-mentioned Amur reusable rocket.
“If all the key indicators of the Amur program are implemented, we plan to provide the majority of commercial launches in the light and medium class with our new rocket“, Alexander Bloshenko, Roscosmos executive director for long-term planning and science, said in a statement.
Bloshenko added that the space vector will be powered by liquid oxygen and methane and it is planned to have its debut in 2026.
The Amur will launch from Vostochny Cosmodrome, in the easternmost end of the Russian Federation, while landings of the reusable first stage will take place at several sites, which are currently undetermined.
Amur will have a take-off weight of about 360 tons, will be 55 meters high and 4.1 meters in diameter. The launch vehicle will consist of a reusable first stage supplied with five RD-0169A methane/oxygen engines developed by the Voronezh Design Bureau, which are expected to deliver 100 tons of thrust each. The second stage, on the other hand, will also use methane and oxygen as propellants, while the thruster will be a RD-0169V developed to deliver 110 tons of thrust.
The choice of methane links to the low cost of fuel and the ease of its storage and use: thus, it will be an affordable approach of which space economy would benefit.
Amur will be able to fly both in reusable and disposable versions. In the reusable version, the vector will be able to underspin to 10.5 tons of payload in low earth orbit, while in the disposable one it will lift up to 12.5 tons.
However, paying attention to Amur’s characteristics, it seems like a story already known: the resemblance to the Falcon9 – developed by the American agency SpaceX – is remarkable. In fact, both of them focus on methane as propellant and on the same landing system and the position of the aerodynamic grids.
However, there are differences as well. Comparatively, the Amur will be considerably smaller and less powerful than the Falcon9, being just 55 meters tall and lifting 11.6 tons of payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO) while the Falcon9 is 70 m tall and can endure 25.1 tons to LEO.
Nonetheless, according to Bloshenko’s statements, the significant feature of this new Russian project concerns a rocket whose development will have to respect a precise budget, and whose “entry level” cost for a launch should not exceed 22 million US dollars. “We will involve specialized companies as contractors capable of determining the exact conditions under which it will be possible to offer this launch price and to cover the costs faced to carry out the project”. The goal, however, should be to minimize costs of launches to send satellites into orbit: a new business which is increasingly growing and may draw many investors’ attention. It, on the opposite, would serve a niche market and would not be profitable for the international competitive race.
Of course, in consonance with the road map, we can see the new Roscosmos Amur at work only in 2026.
The Roscosmos Amur rocket is just the latest example of a growing activism in the extra-atmospheric dimension, which has become a full-fledged operational domain. Russia is taking innovative and bold actions to conquer space superiority and to patronize the Nation’s interests in the space field forthwith and in the future and the emerging Amur project also presents numerous opportunities that may enhance the Russia’s ability to attain its strategic aims. On the other hand, several factors may limit the nation’s possibilities to achieve its desired goals.
Russia should continually pursue a sustainable space policy in an economic framework which makes the country conditioned by a budget-availability severely limited by a recessive trend in its national economy and a growing demand for new investment in support of its projection outwards. This latter highlights the Russian aim to look for new and profitable markets, as well as new strategic areas where it can establish or strengthen its political and military influence.
The high level of ambition for a key-role in the space battlefield has no limits, under the aspect of both financial commitment and the opportunities that the outer space can offer to the main stakeholders, especially when they operate in a context of strong competition.
It is beyond dispute that Russia and the US are two of the main contenders in the space race. Compared to the past, when the objectives were almost attributable to questions of prestige and scientific development, nowadays the competition does not conceal the geopolitical interest of both the superpowers and the impact that can derive in economic and military terms. Therefore, what really affects the interests of Russia and the US is not only the achievement of predetermined results but also the primacy in achieving them.
Other articles by Cristina Semeraro published in Vision & Global Trends-International Institute for Global Analyses:
- 5G AS A BOOST FOR THE ITALIAN DEVELOPMENT
- Artificial Intelligence and Italy: the national strategy launched by Government
- South Africa on board: Space as a center of gravity for the economic development
- Cyber-security threat and italian resilience
- India and outer space ambition: first crewed mission in 2021 and geopolitics involvements
- Artificial Intelligence and USA: National strategic approach against future technological threats