Russia set to reignite reusable Space Shuttle program

The Soviet Buran space plane. Image courtesy of Pedro Albuquerque
The Soviet Buran space plane. Image courtesy of Pedro Albuquerque.

After a 25-year hiatus for the Russian space shuttle program Buran (Snowstorm), Russia looks to take on a new Reusable Space Rocket System to reduce the cost of satellite launches.

The Reusable Space Rocket System, known in Russia as MRKS, is being developed by Moscow-based spacecraft manufacturer Krunichev State Research and Production Space Center.

According to a Sputnik News report, the program is being developed under the Federal Space Program and is expected to cost 12.5bn Rubles ($191m).

The report outlines that the program will receive financing from 2021 until 2025, although it is unknown exactly when the system will be completed.

According to a Space Daily report, the system could be launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Eastern Russia.

The Reusable Space Rocket System is set to use a partially reusable first stage vertical launch vehicle (MRKS-1) that features a winged booster stage. The MRKS-1 will carry disposable second stages and upper stages, with the winged first stage returning to Earth thanks to its airplane configuration, enabling horizontal landings. The first stage is expected to be equipped with liquid-propellant sustainers that will be reusable.

Cargo weighing up to 35 metric tons will be transported by the MRKS-1 and this will significantly reduce the cost of launching satellites and other spacecraft.

Is the Russian space program viable?

While Russia is looking to expand its space travel efforts with the MRKS, the country faces looming concerns over its existing space program crisis.

Russia’s financial hardship and lack of research when compared with NASA has proved troublesome for the nation who once won the race to launch a human into orbit.

Russia’s space industry has seen 15 lost spacecraft since 2010 and most of these have been attributed to assembly errors.

NASA spent $17.6bn in 2014 compared with Russia’s $4.1bn, yet Russia still launches more rockets than any other nation.

Western sanctions and declining oil prices pose issues for Russia’s space program, which are under-financed as it is.

The successful development and implementation of the Reusable Space Rocket System could be what is needed to revive Russia’s space ambitions.