Russia has dropped a broad hint that it might leave the space launch business to private operators.
Space launches have become a relative commodity: SpaceX publishes a price list offering a Falcon 9 trip to geosynchronous transfer orbit for $62m, or $90m for Falcon Heavy.
Russia's official newsagency TASS carried a report suggesting the country might let the new generation of private launch vehicles have the business to themselves rather than try to build a platform that can compete with SpaceX.
TASS reports Deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, whose role puts him at the top of the country's defence industry, said in a television interview: “The share of launch vehicles is as small as 4 per cent of the overall market of space services”.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 poised to fling 350kg planet-sniffing satellite into Earth orbitREAD MORE
Rogozin added that the global space services market is worth US$350 billion and that Russia could do better as a payload-builder than a launcher-for-hire.
“The 4 per cent stake isn’t worth the effort to try to elbow Musk and China aside," he said.
El Reg notes that India is also shaping up as a launch competitor, with its ultra-low-cost Mars orbiter and its PSLV vehicle proven since 1994 demonstrating capability and cost-competitiveness.
There's a bit of realpolitik to consider here, too, because tension between the US and Russia means the former nation isn't very keen on sending business Moscow's way.
SpaceX, meanwhile, staged another boring, successful, nothing-blew-up launch earlier today, with its Falcon 9 carrying the much-anticipated NASA TESS planet-hunting satellite to orbit. ®