Space Policy 1994 10 (2) 115-120

Maxim V. Tarasenko


This paper analyses Russia's view of its involvement in international space cooperation and the Western concerns associated with this. In the current economic and political situation the Russian administration and space industry are eager to take part in all kinds of international space activity, which is seen as an opportunity to sustain the country's scientific and technological potential. Russia claims a fair share in both commercial space operations and joint space development programmes, appropriate to its capabilities as the world's number two space power. Western concerns about Russian interference in its policy and the problems involved in dealing with Russia should be solvable and are less dangerous than reverting to a situation of confrontation.
On one hand the end of the Cold War caused a decline in political backing and financial support for national space projects that had previously been fuelled by military competition. On the other hand the new international environment provided a unique opportunity for the space powers to pool their capabilities and maximize their potential for satisfying global needs.

As the new global framework of international space activity is being shaped the issue of determining Russia's proper place therein cannot be ignored. This article presents a Russian view of how it should be judged, outlining Russian perceptions of Russian aims in and capabilities for international space cooperation before making a response to Western concerns about Russian involvement.

2 Background: space rating 1.5

The former Soviet Union (FSU) was one of the top two space powers in the world. The FSU and the USA were the only countries to pursue a full spectrum of activities, including manned missions, space science, space systems for national defence and economic applications. For the Soviet leadership rocket and space technology was a top priority area in order to remain on a par with the USA. Although inferior in many areas of high technology, the FSU was highly successful in areas like the production of powerful liquid rocket engines, aerodynamics, space nuclear power, software production and algorithms. The FSU was able to capture a lead in some highly visible activities such as maintaining a human presence in orbit, space launch capability and launch vehicle reliability.

With the break-up of the FSU, Russia inherited an overwhelming part of the country's space related scientific and industrial potential, as well as of the ground support infrastructure. Currently Russia is clearly the world's number two space power. Indeed its unique experience and lead in some high-profile areas allows some people in Russian industry and policy-making circles to rate it, say, 1.5. A consequence of this self-perception is that Russia considers the USA its prime partner for cooperation in space.

2 Russian interest in international space activity

International space activity can be divided into two aspects: the global market for space products and services; and the arena for cooperative space projects. These two aspects are not independent and, although they are in most cases easily separable, it is not worth drawing too marked a distinction when discussing the current Russian position.

2 Global space market

The FSU did not participate in the international space market and its involvement in cooperative ventures was limited mainly to scientific cooperation with Eastern European countries under the Intercosmos programme.

Now, with the Russian rocket and space industry suffering from the end of the Cold War and the transition from a planned to a market economy, Russia hopes to benefit by offering its expertise on the global space market. Entering this market is seen as a way of raising additional out-of-budget funding. This is imperative because, after the break-up of the FSU the space industry literally has to fight for survival. The state space budget now merely suffices to provide marginal maintenance costs and salaries which are as low as half the average for state-owned industries.1 The acuteness of the situation is illustrated by the fact that in 1993 leading Russian space firms had to sell a variety of historical space artefacts at auction to earn a few million dollars.2

Russia's principal contribution to the global market is likely to be its space launch capability. The Russian SLV industry is quite competitive both in terms of reliability and scheduling.3 However, the industry is also offering other space-related technologies which are on a par with or superior to similar Western developments. These include liquid rocket engines, electric jet engines, nuclear power plants, composite materials and alloys.

1. End of Cold War Did Not Ease to Russia Way to Market of Space Services', Izves-fia, 24 June 1993, p 3. (in Russian).
2. Going-Out-of-Business Sale For Soviet Space Program', New York Times, 8 August 1993, pp 1, 17.
3. This is an example of a drawback, which led to an advantage. Shorter longevity of the Soviet spacecraft promoted the development of an extensive SLV production capacity and of launch support infrastructure, capable of as much as 100 space launches per year.
2 International cooperation

International space cooperation is viewed by the Russian Space Agency (RKA) and industry as a way of continuing prospective projects which cannot now be sustained by the country alone. Uniting the efforts of various countries (especially Russia and the USA) could safeguard scientific and research capabilities developed during the Cold War that are threatened with disappearance thanks to a drop in demand.

The list of potential cooperative projects is determined by those areas in which the FSU scored the greatest success. Top priority for the RKA is a permanently manned space station. In addition to operating the only such object to exist, which has been almost permanently inhabited since as early as 1987,4 Russia also possess a workable and extremely reliable system for ferrying crew and cargo. Therefore the RKA and industry would expect to be accorded a proper place in the revised International Space Station programme. This role was confirmed in agreements signed by US Vice-President Gore and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin in September and December 1993. However, the extent and details of the use of Russian hardware in a new joint design has still to be finally agreed between the US administration and the Senate.5

The second item on the RKA's international agenda is space science.

This has traditionally been an area for successful international collaboration. From as early as 1985 (the Venus and Halley missions) the FSU has performed all its space science and planetary missions only in cooperation with the West, notably France and some other European countries. Its Western partners made significant savings by leaving development and launch of the basic spacecraft to the Soviets, while they in turn received data from superior Western scientific instruments.

Future Russian space science projects (eg the Spektr observation series. Mars probes) all envision foreign participation. Frankly, this international collaboration is now a must for Russian space science. Although the RKA commits a steady 19% of its budget to space science, under current economic conditions budget allocations run too low even to cover the traditionally Russian-funded part of spacecraft manufacturing and launch. As a result, to get off the ground, any Russian space science mission needs both scientific and also financial foreign participation.6

This has given rise to an unusual situation in which Russia is willing to participate extensively in joint programmes but can not for the time being abide by the basic principle of earlier space cooperation - no net transfer of funds.

At the same time the Russian space administration expects a place in joint programmes commensurate with the country's rating in certain fields. But there are differences in the way such participation is perceived in industrial and political circles. For example, even though Russia will receive $400 million over four years in support of the joint space station development and the RKA estimates a cumulative income for the Russian space industry from the programme of up to $1.5 billion, 'some Russian specialists' have raised the concern that Russia is 'making a present' to the USA of what it has taken decades to develop.7

4. There was an intentional 4-month break in Mir occupancy in 1989. It was caused by a budget shortfall.
5. House Quartet Challenges New Station Plan', Space News, 29 November-5 December 1993,pp1,20.
6. RKA Calls for Help On Mars Mission', Space News, 25-31 October 1993, pp 1, 18.
7. 0p cit, Ref 1; and 'Vesti' Information Program, Russian TV, 23:00 13 December 1993 (in Russian).
2 Expanding the scope of international cooperation

Starving for funds, the Russian space industry has gone so far as to offer international users some of their best products developed for military applications. In addition to obvious spin-off uses of military communications and reconnaissance spacecraft for commercial applications, complete operational military systems have been offered.

TsNPO Kometa of Moscow, which was the prime contractor for Soviet early warning and anti-satellite systems, has proposed the use of Russia's operational early warning satellite system for global atmospheric monitoring. According to Kometa, the ASAT system could be employed to mitigate the effects of large space debris.8

The reasoning behind this is the same as for other branches - to secure out-of-budget funding to keep the industry afloat. In this case, however, the explicitly military capabilities of the systems has prevented their being offered for sale. Instead, it is proposed that their capabilities be used under international jurisdiction, without relinquishing control of the system to a foreign government. If such an arrangement were accepted, it would constitute a qualitatively new area of cooperation in space.

Closer milestones might be reached through the simple exchange of data between owners of operational military space-based systems. These data could be used for peaceful applications such as monitoring drug traffic and environmental problems.9 This approach could be further expanded to monitor non-proliferation of weapons and, eventually, to establish an international monitoring network as part of a global security system.

8. Maxim Tarasenko, Transformation of the Soviet Space Program After the Cold War', Science & Global Security, 2, 1994.
9. American and Russian Intelligences Turning Green', Izvesfia, 30 October 1993, p 7 (in Russian).
2 Western concerns about Russia's positionrket

The possibility of Russia's full-scale involvement in international space activity raises several basic concerns in the West. Firstly, it is feared that cooperation with Russia would deprive Western domestic industries of funds that would be diverted from their contractors to the Russians. Secondly, cultural differences, particularly in business and management styles, complicate cooperative activities with Russia. Thirdly, political instability in Russia inhibits its ability to sustain complicated space activities without interruption, especially long-term cooperative projects. A related concern is that Russia could use cooperation with the West to maintain and upgrade the ex-Soviet military-industrial complex, which might pose a renewed threat if Russia were to return to a position of confrontation with the West.

The first concern applies primarily to launch vehicle suppliers, who fear that Russian penetration of the market would cause dumping on a restricted market and therefore hurt traditional suppliers. To a lesser extent it also concerns spacecraft and systems manufacturers who may lose some development and production contracts for future joint space projects.

However, the real Russian threat to the established space launch market is not as grave as it might seem. The Russian capability to launch into geostationary orbit (GEO), ie the most popular segment of the market, is only equal to seven or eight launches a year.10

Furthermore, the Russian Space Force (responsible for all launches) has not cut its manifest of military payloads, leaving little room for commercial GEO launches - perhaps two a year would be realistic. The quota agreed in 1993, allowing Russia to make eight launches to GEO with up to 12 satellites until the year 2000 seems both acceptable and realistic.

Worries about Russian dumping are also exaggerated. When the Soviet prices for launch services were released for the first time in 1989, they were indeed two or three times lower than in the West. Since then, however, the freeing of prices inside Russia, together with the monopolistic nature of the ex-Soviet economy, has caused internal prices to soar to world levels (and sometimes even higher). Russian suppliers could well face the problem of their prices being too high for the market.

One argument that is correct is that Russian admittance to the global market must be accompanied by the opening of the country's internal market to outside suppliers. This issue has basically been resolved with the acceptance of Russian legislation 'On Space Activity'. This legislation provides equal rights to all participants in space activity, both domestic and foreign.11 It should be noted in this respect that space launches account for about one tenth of the global space market, with ground services and equipment representing about three quarters.12 Thus Russian involvement in the global space market is likely to produce more sales opportunities than deny them.

Western companies, which are also suffering lost revenue thanks to the end of the Cold War, have reason to object to their governments engaging Russian firms in joint projects. However, Russian involvement is not a cause, but a consequence, of the problems in Western space budgets. In the current international environment, space powers lack commitment to costly performance driven projects, rather than the funds themselves. The new emphasis on cost-effectiveness means that programmes like the US/International Space Station would probably have been axed if Russian inclusion and its expected savings had not been forthcoming.

Taking a more distant perspective, the widening of the contractor base also promotes competitiveness in general and is likely to enhance the effectiveness of future space developments. Differences in style of management and doing business may, indeed, pose a problem in space commercialization operations and long-term joint endeavours. Reported problems include Russian difficulty in understanding the distribution of authority in the management network;13 and a belief on the part of Russian manufacturers that they are in charge of a whole project.14 These shortcomings are being cured as Russian space programme management is restructured on the basis of principles accepted in the West. The RKA is now building relations with industry on the same contractural basis as NASA and CNES, etc. and it is not taking Russian manufacturers long to learn that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Political uncertainty is probably the most worrying issue confronting prospects of long-term cooperation between Russia and others, though international cooperation is one way of increasing and preserving stability. Employing Russian space assets in peaceful international projects would help avoid their being used for more dangerous applications or being left to rot. This would contribute directly to social stability and ease worries about proliferation of space- and missile-related technologies to the Third World, which is an obvious alternative to working with the West.

This was illustrated by the case of the Russian-Indian contract for the former to supply the latter with cryogenic engines. The Russian government finally agreed to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime and modify the deal with India in accordance with MTCR guidelines because it anticipated greater benefits from dealing with the West than from selling space technology to India.

In the meantime, until summer 1993, the USA appeared much less responsive to the idea of cooperation than was expected in Russia. This cautious approach, understandable from a Western standpoint, was considered inexplicable on the Russian side, since Russia had suffered much more from the end of the Cold War. As a result suspicion grew within Russian industry and some defence-related circles that the USA was reluctant to admit Russia to the international market but intended rather to subvert the country's capabilities and steal its leading-edge technologies or buy them out for next to nothing. Combined with our present difficulties, these feelings fuel support for extreme nationalist and communist parties and promote the very instability which is potentially capable of restarting the Cold War.15

One recommendation for alleviating, if not resolving, these concerns is for Western space enterprises to establish more joint ventures with appropriate Russian firms. Use of such alliances in the marketing of space services would prevent accusations of unfair competition from Russian firms offering below-market prices. Joint ventures would promote the easier and faster introduction of Western standards and management styles and would become a powerful policy stabilizing factor. People who get personal experience of working and living under normal conditions will never support a return to a totalitarian system.

10. Starting from 1974 the USSR/Russia performed 111 launches to GEO, nine of which failed (as of 1 January 1994. To become 112 with the Gals launch, due this month).
11. The exception is contractors for space projects included into the Federal space programme, where the foreign shareholding must not exceed 49 per cent. The Law of the Russian Federation On Space Activity', Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 6 October 1993.
12. According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, in 1992 of total incomes from space-related sales 9% came from commercial launches; 17% from satellites manufacturing; 28% from services and 46% from ground equipment.
13. Marcia S. Smith, 'Russia/US Space Interaction: A Trip Report With Observations and Options', Congressional Research Service Report 92-774 SPR, 27 October, 1992.
14. Russian express role complicates joint flight', Aviation Week and Space Technology, 16 August 1993, p 71.
15. It is noteworthy that in the last Russian elections the leader of the extreme nationalist Liberal Democratic Party was elected from the district where major space enterprises reside, including NPO Energia.
120 SPACE POLICY May 1994