Prior to the last few years, Russia had long enjoyed dominance in the commercial satellite launch market. Unfortunately for Moscow, this reality radically changed since 2013. SpaceX, the American firm run by Elon Musk, has taken the lead in this profitable sector, and looks to be expanding that edge in the coming decade, eating into Moscow’s foreign currency imports.
Arstechnica.com writes, “This year, although Russia has made 17 successful orbital launches, only about a third of them have flown for paying customers other than the Russian government or the International Space Station. By contrast, SpaceX has made 16 launches this year, 11 of which have been for commercial customers. A SpaceX projection for 2018 suggests that disparity will continue to grow if the company continues to increase the flight rate of its Falcon 9 rocket.”
Russia rocket builder Energia has come up with a new medium launch vehicle, the Soyuz-5, to challenge SpaceX in this sector of the market.
“Even more importantly, the Kremlin saw the new-generation vehicle as the Russian response to the American challenge on the commercial launch market, making the work on the Soyuz-5 booster especially urgent,” writes Russian space reporter Anatoly Zak.
The problem for Russian industry is that the latest versions of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket are reusable, and capable of launching 23 tons into orbit, making it almost impossible for Moscow to compete on price.