2008: For the third time this year,
Russia launched a military satellite. The Proton rocket was used. Including the
partial failures, the Proton is having
about a ten percent failure rate. The Russian launchers, and Russian launch
facilities, are cheaper than those in the West, and nearly as reliable. But these three failures of the Proton rocket
are causing some concern among potential customers. But the Proton is still
cheap, even if you have to pay more for insurance.
Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the Russian spy satellite program has seen
its budget cut year after year. Unable to replace satellites that were wearing
out, the Russian satellite fleet dwindled. Currently, only about a hundred
birds are in orbit (60 percent of them military), Russia has seen its satellite
fleet shrink by over two-thirds since the end of the Cold War. Worse, a
shortage of money for satellite design research has meant that many replacement
birds sent up in the last decade have been two decade old designs. But in the
last five years, more money has gone into updated satellite designs, and now
the Russians are launching much more capable birds. This does not mean more Russian satellites in orbit, but
more capable and longer lasting ones. The new designs will last ten years or
more, compared to about three years for the older birds.
years ago, Russia began building a new generation of spy satellites, ones that
were closer in capability to Western ones. The U.S. has 4-5 times as many spy
satellites in orbit, so Russia has a lot of catching up to do. Even with a
recent boost in spending, their space program is only about a fifth the size of
the American one.
nothing secret about Russian satellite research and development, as they are
offering many of their new designs on the international market. By offering
long experience, and low prices, the Russians are getting attention from
countries that want their own satellites up there, but can't afford the much
more expensive Western designs.