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S7 Group is ready to take the Russian segment of the ISS in concession

The administration of U.S. President, Donald Trump declared intention to privatize the part of the International Space Station. After 2024, financing of the ISS through NASA is planned to stop and transfer of the American segment of the station to private hands will become real. The idea of commercial use of the ISS is considered also in Russia. Chief director of “S7 Space" company, Sergey Sopov, has told us about plans of creation of the Orbital Spaceport and about desire to take the Russian segment of the ISS in concession in an interview to “Izvestia” .

— The launch of “Zenit” launch vehicle, which has taken place at the end of December, became the first launch where you have acted as the operator. What did work of experts of S7 consist in?

— Our participation in the project of launch of Angosat-1 spacecraft was defined by need of use launch vehicle “Zenit” for this launch. The same launch vehicle is used at “Sea Launch” spaceport. There are many specialists on carrying out launches of "Zenit" in our team therefore, we have suggested undertaking a part of functions in this project work. In last year, we got experience of the organization of launch services, acquired business connections with all enterprises, which participate in cooperation on these launch vehicles.

— It is known that at first, it was not possible to establish connection with “Angosat-1”, and then it could not be held in the necessary point of standing. Do you take part in works with “Angosat-1”, in the commission on investigation of the incident?

— We are not related to this device. We have only carried out a task of removal of the satellite into a target orbit.

— Is the transaction on acquisition of "Sea Launch" already closed?

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— We have received the basic decision from regulators of the USA on purchase of a property complex of Sea Launch project. In particular, we have permission from U.S. State Department. We expect that the transaction will be closed at the end of I (the beginning of the II) quarter 2018.

— How many investments is already enclosed in the project and what investments still have to be required?

— Total investment in acquisition of the “Sea Launch” spaceport, including his conclusion from preservation, is about $150 million. The issue of attraction of any additional resources is not discussed yet.

— When will the first launch of "Zenit" on the renewed program of "Sea Launch" take place?

— The first launch from the sea platform we plans to the end of 2019. Payload isn't determined yet, negotiations with potential customers are conducted. The launch vehicle is highly factory readiness. Works began in last years. Besides, there is one more launch vehicle in production at “Yuzhmash”. It can be also made in the possible shortest time. In total, we have ordered production of 12 launch vehicles “Zenit” from “Yuzhmash”.

— There was always a large number of the Russian accessories in these rockets. Will domestic enterprises continue to make them?

— Naturally. Without participation of enterprises of the Russian space-rocket branch, it is impossible to make "Zenit". The engine of the first stage RD-171, the combustion chamber of the second stage, which is completely manufactured in Russia, control system and many other components are the main parts of that launch vehicle. In total, about 150 domestic enterprises are involved in cooperation. Their share in value terms from prime cost of a rocket makes 80%. Implementation of the contract on 12 launch vehicles “Zenit” will bring to the Russian enterprises about half a billion dollars.
Besides, considering high unification of launch vehicles "Zenit" and "Union-5", participation of the domestic enterprises in renewal of the “Sea Launch” project will provide them with stable work and will allow them to product new middle-class rockets.
From the political point of view, "Sea Launch" is also important as one of the few escaped "bridges" between Russia and the USA. In addition, that it is especially valuable that it has remained in such hi-tech sphere as the missile and space equipment and launch services.

— Will launch vehicle be collected in USA?

— Yes, “Yuzhmash” delivers first and second stages of "Zenit" to the United States, in the same place there will be a final assembly. This is the interstate agreement of the USA and Russia. There are corresponding licenses from state agencies of the United States on this task.

— ‎For how many years there ordered quantity of rockets will be enough?

— We have created the launch program until 2023 inclusive. For a release of the project to self-sufficiency it is necessary to carry out 3–4 launches a year. Ordered launch vehicles “Zenit” have to be enough until creation of launch vehicle "Soyuz-5" (until the end of 2022).

— Judging by your presentation at “Space as Business” conference, appearance of a rocket, which you wish to receive, differs from what develops RSC “Energia”. Don't you really accept "Union-5"?

— Before getting "Sea Launch", we have carefully analyzed launch services market and the prospect of its development. Vision of perspective commercially successful rocket of the middle class is created. We recognize what is already presented and what can appear in the market of launch services in the next years. Everybody watches the progress of “SpaceX” Company with her “Falcon 9”. “Blue Origin” also experiments with the returned stage. The competitive launch vehicle has to be two-stages, cheap in production and service, with a reusable first stage. If reusability is not provided, the rocket has to be cheaper to compete at the price with such kind of launch vehicle. Theoretically, it is known that the efficiency of reusable system begins with six launches a year. If it is less launches, then it is more expedient to use a cheap disposable rocket.
Ideally, the family of the unified rockets with different first stages is necessary. For the piloted projects — the disposable vehicle with reliable engines. For launch of spacecrafts, the option with cheaper disposable reusable stage is more expensively, but it has bigger loading capacity.
So far, manufacturers offer us three-stage and expensive launch vehicle. "Union-5" is, in fact, the grown-up and grown stout launch vehicle "Zenit". It is the remarkable launch vehicle with fine technical characteristics, but to repeat it at new technological level, besides by 2022 when our competitors leave further away - it looks like not the most optimal solution. Together (with RSC “Energia” and other enterprises of branch) we consider various options of depreciation and increase in competitiveness of a new launch vehicle.

— So, when the owner of S7 Group of companies Vladislav Filev has announced plans of purchase of 50 vehicles and the option for 35, he meant not "Union-5", but your option of launch vehicle, didn’t he?

— Technical capabilities of "Sea Launch" allow exploiting him until 2045-2050. We are ready to make the large order at once, but we have to be sure that it is such a kind of launch vehicle that will be capable to make profit, but not losses.

— Tell about "Orbital Spaceport" which you suggest to construct to SC “Roskosmos”. What is it?

— ‎ “Roskosmos”, “NASA” and other space agencies plan to create the visited station in a circumlunar orbit. There are no funds for operation at once of two station (the Moon and ISS) — neither at Russia, nor at the USA. In this regard, all State Parties of the ISS project are interested in involvement of the private companies to work on low Earth orbit. We are ready to cooperate with “Roskosmos” in this question. The Russian segment of the ISS is of interest to us as the scientific and industrial platform where it is possible to arrange unique productions, assembly of spacecrafts, to organize "hub" for further expansion — development of the Moon and Mars.
In the presence on Earth orbit of space infrastructure there is no need to create super expensive super heavy missiles to launch the interplanetary ships and probes. Their assembly from smaller modules can be carried out directly at the ISS or near her. In addition, to bring crews to the station and from there to transport on the ship, which flies, let us assume, to the Moon. First, it will be economic. It is possible to use the available missile and space equipment. Secondly, more safely. The chance to lose everything because of accident is less at launch of elements of a design in parts.

— So, you want to become the operator of the Russian segment of the ISS?

— Yes, we intend to ask “Roskosmos” to hand over the Russian part of the station to us in concession.

— When can it occur?

— After restoration of launch activity of “Sea Launch” project, that is in 2022-2024. Now it is about possible turning of work of the ISS in 2024, and we offer one of possible ways of further use of the station — as an alternative to flooding.

— So, you suggest using the ISS as transshipment terminal before flight in distant space, don’t you?

— Yes, it is exactly put in the concept of "Orbital Spaceport". It has to become the launch pad for flights in distant space. The ISS arrangement on low Earth Orbit does it unique for these purposes. Here it is possible to carry out assembly, filling, servicing of spacecrafts and the ships. It is also simpler to carry out cargo delivery to the Moon and Mars from here — by means of the tow with the nuclear power propulsion system (NPPS) of a megawatt class. Only our country has an experience of creation of similar systems. The transport module will be able slowly, but without serious expenses of fuel and in the necessary time to deliver freight to the Moon and Mars. If for the piloted ships the main thing — it is necessary to bring reliability, comfort and speed of flight, then freights just in time when they are necessary. However, the piloted orbital base is necessary for service of tows. The orbital spaceport and the Tow don't make sense without each other.
Our business plan as about the first space transportation company of the world also consists in it. Existence of the cheap and reliable launch vehicle with launches from the Equator according to Sea Launch program, launches from Baikonur according to the Land Launch program, existence of infrastructure on low Earth Orbit in the form of the ISS plus vehicles for interorbital and interplanetary transportations with NPPS.

— Modern International Law forbids use of nuclear systems on low Earth orbit.

— Yes, for this reason we suggest to increase ISS flight altitude to 600 km in the long term. It is the minimum height of use of NPPS, but at the same time, the station remains in a magnetosphere of Earth protecting crew from radiation.

— So, you need your own pilots and engineers, don’t you?

— Yes, it is the following step. We thought of it. Today training of astronauts is a prerogative of the State. In our opinion, it does not conform to requirements of time any more. There has to be the group of astronauts-testers at RSC “Energia” as it was at Sergey Korolev. Other operators of the space equipment have to have its own groups. The center of training of astronauts has to have functions of their training and certification. So far, however, this question isn't critical for us. At first, we have to resume launches according to “Sea Launch” program.

S7 Group is ready to take the Russian segment of the ISS in concession