S7 Group intends to order 85 boost rockets from Sergei P. Korolev ENERGIA Rocket and Space Corporation, according to the statement by S7 owner Vladislav Filev at Cosmos as Business conference. Invest Foresight figured out how S7 Group plans to compete with Space X, a private US-based aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company founded in 2002 by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Vladislav Filev’s space Odyssey
S7 Group is the largest private air and space carrier in Russia. It is owned by Vladislav Filev and his spouse Natalia Fileva. In 2016, S7 Group announced the signing of a contract with ENERGIA providing for the purchase of the Sea Launch asset complex based in Long Beach, California. Besides Odyssey platform with mounted rocket equipment, S7 acquired the Sea Launch Commander ship. S7 also signed a cooperation agreement with ENERGIA Corporation on resumption of operation of the Sea Launch complex. Thus, S7 became the first private space company in Russia. Vladislav Filev has plans to perform up to 70 commercial launches within the next 15 years. Sea Launch operations are still on hold since the deal has not been closed.
Sea Launch was established in 1995 by a consortium of the US’ Boeing, Russia’s ENERGIA, Norway’s Kvaerner shipbuilder (currently Aker Solutions), and Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Office and Production Association Yuzhny Machine-Building Plant, to launch Zenit-3SL carrier rockets. After Sea Launch’s bankruptcy in 2009, ENERGIA became the sole shareholder of the project. In 2014 all launches were suspended.
Vladislav Filev believes that to be feasible, Sea Launch will need a new cheaper rocket capable of competing with Falcon 9 made by Elon Musk’s Space X. Neither Zenit nor the present-day Angara rockets fit this goal.
Launch vehicle for Sea Launch
In 2016 ENERGIA started developing a new jet set Soyuz 5. Even though S7 Space Transportation Systems General Director Sergey Sopov said that Soyuz 5 should not be similar to Zenit, the new booster, according to Forbes, will nevertheless be based on Zenit design and RD-170 liquid fuel rocket engine. The new craft will be a two stage launcher capable to deliver cargos to orbital altitudes of up to 1500 kilometers. The rocket will have weight of 500 to 550 tons without cargo and 700 tons with cargo. For the first time in history of the Russian space rockets technology, the first stage of Soyuz 5 will be reusable just like Falcon 9. And most importantly, the cost price of the new booster should not exceed $600 per 1 kilo of its overall weight. In this case the launcher will be profitable. According to Sergey Sopov, the new rocket will be available in five to seven years’ time.
“We are ready to place an order for 50 boosters with an option for further 35 rockets within next ten years”, Filev says.
Yet, until 2023 S7 will only buy 12 boosters from ENERGIA. It also intends to resume launches from the mobile maritime platform in 2018. Investments into the Sea Launch revival will amount to $220 million.
The booster which is now being developed will not be intended for military purposes.
As Vladislav Filev explained to Invest Foresight, “We are business people interested in launches of commercial payloads, so we will develop a transport rocket”.
Soyuz 5 boosters will deliver to the space orbits payloads for various Russian and foreign companies. Filev declined to name the customers.
“At Elon Musk’s Space X, waiting line is five to six years. All boosters they made have already been launched. In the international market of commercial payloads launches we will inevitably compete with Russia’s Proton launch vehicle, Space X’s Falcon and other players”, Filev continues.
In late 2016 Sergey Sopov told that commercial launches from the maritime platform will be priced between $65 million and $76 million. A launch by Space X costs $65 million, therefore S7 plans to price its services higher, but the timeline will be under a year, compared to Space X’s several years’ timeline.
In 2017 Space X launched 16 boosters. Elon Musk’s company spent $100 million of its own funds and further $400 million provided by NASA, to develop and start manufacturing its space vehicle. Space X received additional funding from the US government: $2.8 billion to develop a spacecraft and over $1 billion to develop a cargo space ship. It also got orders from the Pentagon amounting to another billion dollars. The founder of S7 did not specify the costs of developing a new Russian booster. This year, Russia launched 17 satellites. S7 was involved in launching seven of them (all of them were military satellites).
The world commercial payloads industry is now measured in billions of dollars. Revenues of the companies which launch commercial loads reach $5 billion; satellite internet and communication providers earn $220 billion, satellite manufacturers make $15 billion. Filev says, he has no plans to launch satellites for internet provision and will only focus on transporting cargos to space.
After International Space Station is out of operation in 2024, only its Russian segment will be left at the orbit. S7 intends to come up with a proposal to turn it into an orbital spaceport. Spacecraft travelling to deep space could be repaired and refueled there and S7 Group is willing to arrange and market these services. According to S7 representatives, such services are quite promising since Space X is getting ready for a flight to and colonization of Mars.
“To get to the orbital port, boosters will use liquid fuel engines. To travel further to outer space, they will need nuclear energy units. Russia has got some experience of orbital operation of such a power unit at its military satellites”, explains Sergey Sopov. “Liquid fuel engines will soon be gone since it will take three or more years to get to Mars if those are used”.
By Natalia Kuznetsova