As recently as last year, Russian rocket scientists were dubious about the potential of reusable rockets, such as those being developed by SpaceX and Blue Origin. Among the doubters was the Central Research Institute of Machine Building, which develops basic rocket strategy for Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
“The economic feasibility of reusable launch systems is not obvious,” an official with the research institute said in February 2016. “First and foremost it will depend on how often launches will be made. At the moment it is hard to forecast which way the market of launch services will go when reusable space rockets become available. The designers are still to demonstrate the real costs of production and of making reusable stages for re-launching,”
At the time of that statement, both SpaceX and Blue Origin had begun flying their purportedly reusable boosters, but SpaceX had not yet landed at sea nor had it reused a flown booster. Blue Origin, too, had only begun a series of ultimately impressive tests to stress its New Shepard booster. Accordingly, Roscosmos CEO Igor Komarov was confident that a reduction in launch costs of the country’s workhorse Proton-M rocket from $90 million-100 million to $70 million would keep Roscosmos competitive.
But last Thursday’s successful test by SpaceX appears to have changed the attitude of Russian rocket scientists toward reusable rockets. Instead of being dismissive, Komarov congratulated SpaceX and Elon Musk. “This is a very important step, we sincerely congratulate our colleague on this achievement,” he told journalists.
“The innovations SpaceX is making are forcing us to work on lowering the cost price and raising the product quality. The main thing is to ensure a competitive product,” he added. Those innovations will include development of reusable boosters. “We are running pilot projects in the sphere of retrievable components,” Komarov said. “Speaking of components, we have engines which can work a multiple number of times, for example Engine 191 and the engine for Angara (another Russian rocket). We will also be using the potential of retrievable rocket components.”