Elon Musk Offers Russia Some Tips on Reusable Rockets After Roscosmos Announces $880m Plan

SpaceX boss Elon Musk has said Russia's move to build a reusable rocket booster by 2026 is a "step in the right direction."

The billionaire technologist, whose "Falcon 9" reusable rocket was recently relied upon by NASA to send two U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), gave his Russian space-faring counterparts free advice via his Twitter account this week.

"They should really aim for full reusability by 2026. Larger rocket would also make sense for literal economies of scale. Goal should be to minimize cost per useful ton to orbit or it will at best serve a niche market," Musk wrote in response to a tweet noting Russia's efforts were still around 15 years behind advancements made by SpaceX.

He was reacting to the news that space agency Roscosmos was developing a reusable "Amur" rocket with a methane propellant, at a total cost of around $880 million.

State news outlet Tass reported the booster will be reusable, but the rocket will have a "non-recoverable" second stage. The final product will be about 180-feet tall, while its reusable stage should be able to launch 10.5 tons of payload into low-earth orbit.

With a launch date estimated as being up to six years away, the price of launch services—sending those payloads up—will be roughly $22 million, Roscosmos said.

"According to preliminary calculations, the [new rocket system] being created can begin providing flight tests as early as 2026. It is intended to carry out a phased replacement of the existing family of Soyuz-2 launch vehicles," the agency said in a release.

Launches are expected to take place at the Vostochny Cosmodrome spaceport in the Russian Far East. The state contact was officially signed on Monday.

"The central engine will be responsible for landing the stage back to Earth. In each flight it will operate three times: first it will ignite at the launch of the rocket, the second time the engine will fire when the reentry stage is decelerated in dense layers of atmosphere, and the third time will [be returning to the] ground with a soft landing on 'feet'," one Amur project official, identified as Igor Pshenichnikov, explained to Tass.

The system seems broadly similar to SpaceX's Falcon 9, which is a reusable, two-stage rocket that blasts payloads—and human crew—to orbit before returning to Earth.

The 13th Starlink mission—which will see 60 more satellites being shot into space using a Falcon 9—is scheduled to take place today (7:29 a.m. EDT, 11:29 UTC) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida after it was scrubbed yesterday due to bad weather.

Starlink is the name of a SpaceX project to create a network of satellites that is able to beam high-speed broadband internet back to Earth. According to its website, service could launch in the U.S. and Canada this year with "near global coverage" by 2021.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk, founder and chief engineer of SpaceX speaks at the 2020 Satellite Conference and Exhibition March 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. Musk said this week that Russia’s move to build a reusable rocket booster by 2026 was a “step in the right direction.” Win McNamee/Getty