Known as the Cosmonautics Day in Russia, the date of April 12 commemorates the flight of the first man in space Yuri Gagarin.
April 12 is the International Day of Human Space Flight worldwide, but in Russia the holiday is referred to as the Cosmonautics Day in honor of the first Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who went up into space on that very date in 1961, some 56 years ago. While Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, experienced problems in the last few years as a result of the international pressure the West exerted over the situation in Ukraine, Russia’s space program still marches ahead.
Today’s challenges to Russia’s space agency stem not only from funding difficulties, but also from increased rivalry from the United States that now has reusable rocket boosters and actively develops delivery vehicles to replace the Soyuz rockets.
Leaving the financial issues aside, Russia has increasingly faced tougher competition from other space powers that recently attained substantial results. In 2016, Russia fell to the third position in the number of space launches, lagging behind the U.S. and China. The results that the U.S.-based SpaceX company demonstrated in reusing the Falcon 9 rocket booster at the end of March show that the Russian space sector is clearly not at its apogee. The United States is also pressing on with the program to replace Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines with products developed by the Blue Origin aerospace manufacturer. The U.S. also took the lead in commercial space launches over the course of 2016, resulting in earnings of some USD1.2 billion. Revenues from Russia’s commercial launches stood at only USD130 million.
Nonetheless, analysts agree that Russia is still a formidable player when it comes to space and Roscosmos has a chance to catch up. Work on reusable boosters in Russia has already been started, but the research and testing is still far from completion. Besides simply mimicking the recent advancements of American scientists, Russian space officials are looking for new technological breakthroughs.
The development of reusable boosters is significant in that it results in lowering launch costs by as much as 30 percent. Current U.S. launch costs are estimated at USD61.2 million, while the launch of the Russian Proton delivery rocket is close to USD65 million. Russia’s new Angara A5 rocket is anticipated to cost more.
Roscosmos committed to perform all seven space launches with the use of Proton rockets that were set for 2017. The Russian space agency is planning for 30 space launches altogether over the course of the year.
Russian scientists are also hard at work to design the Angara A5V rocket to fly to the moon. The building of Russia’s new Federatsiya spacecraft – literally translated as “the Federation” – is now underway at the Energia corporation.
Russia is set to resume the Sea Launch initiative following S7 Group’s acquisition of the platform floating in the Pacific. The Russian company plans to use a Zenit rocket to put into orbit a satellite for Angola.
Either this year or the next, Russia plans to add a module to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch date for the Nauka module to be utilized primarily for scientific research has not been set yet.
The Cosmonautics Day was celebrated at the Baikonur space port in Kazakhstan and at the Russian new launch site at Vostochny. Roscosmos officials placed flower wreaths near the wall of the Kremlin, where Yuri Gagarin and Sergey Korolyov, the father of Russia’s space program, are interred.
Rossotrudnichestvo, Russia’s Federal Agency for issues of the C.I.S, compatriots living abroad, and international humanitarian cooperation, helped put together celebrations, presentations, and exhibits for the Cosmonautics Day in 81 foreign countries.
Moscow streets bore posters showing a view of the Earth from a spaceship, as well as moments of fame in the Russian space program, such as Gagarin’s flight, the spacewalk of cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the Soviet lunar rover, and the Salyut-1 and the Mir space stations. Russia’s Cosmonaut Training Center organized a press briefing with two cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko that came back from the ISS two days previously.