Rocket Engines Produced in Russia Used Only for Statistics: Report

Russia’s space industry is producing rocket engines no one wants to buy in order to beef up statistics, mirroring a policy last seen during the Soviet Union, Lenta reports in a series of articles.

According to the author, Andrey Borisov, Russian firms are continuing to produce rockets the United States says that it will no longer buy, private space firms like SpaceX say they do not want, and that even the Russian space program itself has rejected. This is a rare example of waste and inefficiency and a prediction that the Russian defense sector’s failure to adapt points to likely future failures in the Russian space and defense programs, Borisov says.

“Formally, Washington’s decision not to purchase RD-180 and RD-181 rocket engines from Moscow is the result of the sanctions regime introduced in 2014. But in fact, the applicable U.S. law contains an exception allowing for purchases running into the next decade, lest the U.S. space program be handicapped,” the journalist says.

But the United States stopped buying anyway, Borisov adds, because the Russian rockets no longer meet U.S. needs, and require an outdated kerosene fuel, rather than the new methane fuel that all space programs except the Russian one now prefer.

Roscosmos, the Russian manufacturer, saw this coming even before 2014 but took no steps to modify its engines so that potential buyers would continue to make purchases. Now that failure is causing problems for the state-owned company.

Igor Arbuzov, the general director of Russian rocket engine maker Energomash, has repeatedly warned about this loss in demand; but he appears to have been overruled by Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the Russian space program for Moscow. For his part, Rogozin has argued that it is not Russia that is dependent on U.S. purchases, but the U.S. that is dependent on Russian rocket engines – a complete misreading of the situation, according to the Lenta report.