MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday put a brave face on the loss of its space travel monopoly, saying it planned to test two new rockets this year and resume its lunar programme in 2021.

The comments from the Russian space agency Roscosmoc came after US entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX became the world’s first commercial company to put humans into orbit, signalling the dawn of a new era.

Russia had for many years enjoyed a monopoly as the only country able to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, and Saturday’s flawless US launch meant the loss of a sizable income for Moscow.

“We are not planning to sit idle,” said Roscosmos spokesman Vladimir Ustimenko.

“Already this year we will conduct tests of two new rockets and resume our lunar programme next year,” he tweeted.

He did not elaborate but Russian space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin has said earlier the country planned to conduct a new test launch of the Angara heavy carrier rocket this autumn.

Rogozin has also said that Russia is pressing ahead with the development of its new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat, also known as Satan 2 by Nato’s classification.

In 2018, President Vladimir Putin boasted that the Sarmat was one of the new Russian weapons that could render Nato defences obsolete.

The Russian space agency has earned large sums by ferrying US astronauts to the International Space Station: a seat in the Soyuz costs Nasa around $80 million.

On Sunday, Roscosmos rushed to point out that the United States still needed Moscow.

“It’s very important to have at least two possibilities to make it to the station. Because you never know...” spokesman Ustimenko said.

The Russian space programme is renowned for having sent the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier.

But since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, it has been plagued by corruption scandals and a series of other setbacks, losing expensive spacecraft and satellites in recent years.Moscow space officials on Sunday said they were puzzled by “hysteria” around the successful SpaceX flight as Elon Musk taunted Russia and US President Donald Trump vowed to beat it to Mars. Musk lobbed a jab at Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian space chief who once said Washington may one day be forced to “deliver its astronauts to the ISS by using a trampoline”.

“The trampoline is working,” quipped Musk at a post-flight news conference alongside NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. Both men laughed. “It’s an inside joke,” Musk added.

Rogozin remained conspicuously silent for most of Sunday but offered his congratulations to Bridenstine after the Crew Dragon capsule with two Nasa astronauts docked with the ISS.

“It’s safe to congratulate you at this point with a successful launch and docking. Bravo!” he tweeted.

“Please convey my sincere greetings to @elonmusk (I loved his joke) and @SpaceX team. Looking forward to further cooperation!” In 2014, Rogozin, then deputy prime minister, mocked the lack of a US manned flight programme after Washington announced new sanctions against Moscow which included some space industries.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2020