Russia’s space sector needs to carry out sweeping reform in order to remain competitive, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos said on Thursday evening.
“Unless we undertake extreme measures, the sector will be uncompetitive within three-four years,” Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin said during a lecture to science and technology students.
A recent spate of failed launches is “only the litmus test,” he said. “The root causes are much deeper and more important.”
Russian satellites could end up priced out of the market because per-capita productivity in the aerospace sectors of competing countries is two to four times higher, he warned. “If nothing changes, we won’t be able to sell [Russian space technology] in 2015, because Western equipment will be priced 33 to 50 percent lower,” Popovkin said.
In order to raise productivity, Roscosmos ought to be converted into a space industry holding company that is not under direct state control. The new structure would be able to optimize headcounts at enterprises in the sector and better compete to hire the best people, he said.
Popovkin suggested that the "lower stages" in the production chain should pass into private hands, and called for a fundamental shift in the state's focus from producing a final product to providing conditions conducive to success.
Russia experienced a number of unsuccessful space launches in the past 12 months, losing several commercial satellites and the Phobos-Grunt Mars mission ended in failure. This past August, a Proton-M rocket carrier with a Briz-M booster failed to bring two satellites into the target orbit.