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Russia Boosting Space Budget To Surpass China, Equal Europe

Roscosmos Director Vladimir Popovkin said in an interview with Rossiska Gazeta that Russia needs to redress its past underinvestment in applications satellites, especially for Earth observation and meteorology. Credit: Roscosmos photo

PARIS — The Russian government’s decision to increase Russia’s space budget will permit Russia to surpass China and reach spending parity with the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA), the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said.

“It’s a decent level of funding,” Vladimir Popovkin said in an interview with Rossiska Gazeta that was published on the Roscosmos website.

Popovkin defended himself against accusations that he is against manned spaceflight, but said the manned program needs to meet the same value-for-money standards as the rest of the budget. Spending on cosmonaut-related activities traditionally has accounted for about 40 percent of the Roscosmos budget.

In the near term, Popovkin said, Russia needs to redress its past underinvestment in applications satellites, especially for Earth observation and meteorology. Only one-fifth of domestic demand for geospatial imagery can be met by Russia’s own satellites, he said, and Russian meteorological satellites fall short of international standards.

Popovkin said Roscosmos, for the first time, has begun insisting on clawbacks from industry when the agency determines it has paid too much for a given product or service. He said this effort, which is ongoing, likely will lead to lawsuits as the agency seeks reimbursement.

Similarly, he said, Roscosmos contractors will no longer be allowed to hide behind security constraints to insist on direct contract awards without competitive bidding.

Popovkin said Russia remains highly interested in lunar exploration and is not concerned that its lunar effort comes a half-century after the U.S. lunar program of the 1960s and 1970s. Lots more is known about the Moon now and the interest of the scientific community remains high, he said. Roscosmos will begin with a lander in the Moon’s polar region, the site of large stores of water ice, and continue with rovers.

Comparing Russian spending, or Chinese spending, on space projects with budgets in the West has always been hazardous because a command economy and a market economy do not act in the same way. Engineering-labor costs are also difficult to compare between, for example, the Los Angeles region or Toulouse, France, and Samara, Russia. 

But Popovkin’s estimate that Russia’s budget is about equal to Europe’s does survive initial analysis.

At current exchange rates, Roscosmos’ promised budget of slightly more than 2 trillion rubles between 2013 and 2020 is equivalent to around $63 billion, or $7.9 billion per year.

ESA’s budget for 2013, at 4.28 billion euros, is equivalent to $5.6 billion. When funding provided separately by other organizations — the European Commission, the Eumetsat weather-satellite organization, and national government budgets not invested in ESA — is included, Europe’s annual space budget is in the vicinity of the Russian budget.

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