Russia was the first nation in space and has launched the largest number of satellites to date. In the early days of international satellite communications, Intersputnik was considered to be a rival of INTELSAT, and Soviet expansion plans for space were very large. But with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, major changes in the space program have occurred. The Russian Federation of states now must concentrate on the transition from socialism to capitalism.
The expansion and globalization that is taking place in satellite communications would seem to make an ideal situation for cooperative ventures by the competitive companies of the West and the former Soviet space institutions. While this cooperative process is taking place, it is slower than predicted by the WTEC survey of five years ago. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. Some of the early ventures, such as Rimsat, failed because of the lack of good business standards, and a misunderstanding on the part of the Russians of the importance of good contracts, with well-defined deliverables. Also, the building of a capital system with entrepreneurial spirit, legal expertise and good marketing practices takes more than a decade.
The new Russian Federation drastically cut defense and space funding, which has thrown the space industry into disarray. For example, the current wages of a Russian senior spacecraft engineer are approximately $100 per month, forcing these individuals to drive taxis and find other types of work to support their families. These types of disruptive forces make the privatization process more difficult.
The levels of technologies in current Russian communications satellites are largely five to ten years behind Western standards with a few notable exceptions in bus technologies. These exceptions are primarily in antenna systems and guidance and control with the use of ion plasma thrusters. The Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI), Krasnoyarsk and Cometa Site Reports in Appendix B provide more details on these specific technologies. In the area of communications payloads, the Russian components are heavier and less reliable than their Western counterparts, so the new joint venture projects that are taking place between Russian and Western companies are seeing Western payloads being mated with Russian platforms and then launched with Russian Federation vehicles.
The largest strategic joint venture is the U.S. Lockheed Martin company forming a new venture with the Intersputnik organization of Moscow. The new company named Lockheed Martin Intersputnik (LMI) will base its operations in London and is building one new, largely Lockheed Martin, satellite with a mix of 44 C and Ku-band transponders, with discussions on building an additional spacecraft every year for the next two or three years. The current Intersputnik market is small by INTELSAT standards with 22 primarily small member nations such as Cuba and Vietnam; however, the organization holds 15 or more orbital slots and this should allow LMI to eventually compete with INTELSAT and the Hughes/PamAmSat international venture. The LMI organization is an additional positive move by Lockheed Martin as it had earlier concluded a joint venture with Khrunichev and the RCS Energia organizations to further develop and market the Proton launch vehicle.
A second joint venture with joint technical development is Loral Space and Communications and a Russian customer RAO Gazprom, the large Russian energy company. The joint venture also includes NPO-Energia as the prime working with NPO/PM. The partnership is finishing the building and testing of two Yamal satellites that will include SS/Loral payloads with NPO/PM buses. The satellites were being integrated and tested by NPO/PM in Zheleznogorsk, Siberia and are planned to be launched in late 1997 on a Proton booster. The modest 10 C-band transponder satellites will give the Gazprom entity needed communication for the many new petroleum and natural gas fields that are being developed within the Russian Federation. The joint venture partners are also looking to provide the communications market, especially the developing countries, advanced Yamal satellites that can provide a mixture of 20 to 40 C and Ku-band transponders. The simple Yamal design, combined with low cost integration by NPO/PM and a modest cost launch by a Proton booster, will make this a very competitive package.
The former Soviet Union had a large and formidable space enterprise. For many years, there would be a Russian spacecraft of some type launched every week. The Russian launch capability is still vital and with Western marketing is very competitive. Today's Russian Federation has an enormous supply of spacecraft designers, engineers and technicians. Unfortunately, these well-educated and trained individuals are now largely out of work. To keep some semblance of a work force, the pay scale for most of these engineers varies from $100 to $200 per month, barely a subsistence wage. Many of these individuals must have other types of employment to support their families. The joint ventures between the Western companies and the many Russian space entities are taking a longer time than had been generally predicted. The level of Russian space technologies is behind those of the West, with the exception of a few spacecraft bus and launch technologies. It is especially true in the payload areas where the components are heavier and less reliable than their Western counterparts. However, well educated, low cost labor with a strong launch capability, and new joint ventures, will provide many new business opportunities for the Russian space companies of the future.