Funding for Space Exploration Cut by 63 Billion Roubles

July 29, 2013
The Vostochny Space Center under construction. Photo: РИА Новости/Сергей Гунеев

The Ministry of Finance has cut funding of Roscosmos (the Russian Space Agency) by almost 63.5 billion roubles. These figures were announced at the meeting (of which Izvestia has the minutes) of the State Duma in mid-July with the participation of Vladimir Popovkin, the head of the Federal Space Agency, and the ranking members of the Duma Committee on Industry.

As stated in the document, on July 11, the Ministry of Finance communicated to the space agency the ceilings limiting the federal budget allocations for the implementation of the state program “Space activities in Russia for 2013-2020”. In 2014, the allocations are expected to be reduced by 10.7 billion roubles. In 2015 the amount will be reduced by 12.7 billion roubles, and in 2016 by as much as 40 billion.

All this may have very serious implications, according to the participants in the meeting. It follows from the minutes that the implementation of the presidential decree on the construction of Vostochny, Russia’s own space launching site, is in jeopardy.

“We need an additional 20 billion [roubles] to ensure timely commissioning of the first stage of the new national space center in 2015,” according to Vladimir Gutenev, the first Deputy Chairman of the Duma Committee on Industry, representing “United Russia.” He spoke to Izvestia.

That number, over 20 billion roubles (in fact, 23.6 billion roubles) is made up by several components. It was originally planned to allocate 12.5 billion roubles under the Federal Space Program for the period until 2015 (FCP-2015) for the construction and commissioning of the first stage of the Vostochny Space Center (for launching the medium sized “Soyuz-2”). However, the money has never been allocated by the Ministry of Finance. That amount is listed as under-funded for 2011 and 2012, as noted by the participants of the meeting. In addition, due to the recalculation of the estimated cost of Vostochny, additional financing activities have been identified in the amount of 11.1 billion roubles.

“Commissioning and operation of the spaceport is a matter of national security. If the financing problem is not solved, it will delay the commissioning of the first stage of construction by 2 or 3, maybe even 4 years. This means that for another 3-4 years the money already invested in construction will not work and we will still have to pay huge amounts of money to Kazakhstan for leasing Baikonur,” said Gutenev.

He also emphasized that, in order to implement the Presidential decree, the budget of Roskosmos should be immune from any serious sequestration.

“And the Ministry of Finance, in its turn, should provide timely funding,” said the legislator.

Gutenev stresses that otherwise the second phase of construction of Vostochny will be delayed by an “unknown period of time,” which means that launching of manned spacecraft will have to be put on the back burner.

We have been planning to launch spacecraft starting from 2018, but due to schedule overruns it can be delayed by at least four years, and in this case, the operation of the Space Center itself is put into question,” said Gutenev.

The State Duma has already submitted its recommendations to the government. The lower house is calling on the cabinet (the Ministry of Finance, in particular) not to sequester the space agency’s budget, and to maintain funding of targeted space programs at the same level.

The Ministry of Finance was not available for comment, and Roscosmos officials told Izvestia that the funding proposals for the years of 2014-2016 has been submitted by the industry to the government and endorsed by the State Duma Committee on Industry.

“In the near term the government (the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economic Development) will have a meeting to review the proposals, and based on the results of the meeting decisions on the level of funding for the industry will be made,” said Roscosmos.

In his turn, Ivan Moiseev, the Moscow Space Club Director of Research, is confident that if funding of the construction is postponed now, the never-ending construction project will become more and more costly over time.

“When such large-scale construction projects are launched, whatever they build – a space center, a factory, or anything else – the most important thing is to complete it as soon as possible. The longer the delays, the more money will be needed. Since it was decided to build a spaceport in a relative short period of time, it is best to stick to a schedule. If the Ministry of Finance wants to save money this year, it will lose much more next year,” said Moiseev.

In November 2007, the Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the construction of a new Russian space center in the Far East East of the country, in the Amur region. The first launch of the carrier rocket at the new launch site was planned as early as 2015, with the first launch of a manned spacecraft in 2018.