Russia’s top space official said that the space agency’s current budget was not enough to finance breakthrough projects and that China might soon overtake Russian space technology.
“The markets are always won by those who have money,” Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, told lawmakers in the upper house of parliament.
“But the finance ministry’s policy doesn’t allow us to complete projects aimed at winning the foreign market.”
The rare high-profile complaint follows warnings by veteran cosmonauts that stagnation permeates the agency that beat the United States into space with Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight 50 years ago, Reuters reports.
Russia has budgeted 200 billion roubles (4.4 billion pounds) for space programmes in 2010-2011, making it the fourth largest spender after U.S. space agency NASA, the European Space Agency and France, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.
NASA’s proposed budget for fiscal 2011 is $18.7 billion (11.5 billion pounds).
Perminov said Russia could tackle further space boundaries, including manned flights to Mars, but only after 2035.
“It would be absurd to fly on the rockets we have now,” he said, adding that a flight to Mars using today’s technology would take a year and a half.”
Rumours of Perminov’s imminent sacking have also marred official celebrations of Gagarin’s maiden orbit and drawn attention to a string of embarrassing setbacks in recent months.
Two high-ranking space officials were fired after three high-tech GLONASS navigation satellites crashed into the Pacific Ocean after a failed launch in December.
Last week Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov abruptly announced that Perminov would soon be past the retirement age at 65, indicating that he might leave soon, news agencies reported.
Even as Russia marked the anniversary of Gagarin’s pioneering flight on Tuesday, experts said it had neglected investment in space research and was content to sell seats on its Soviet-designed Soyuz spacecraft to foreign astronauts.
In an apparent bid to allay such concerns, Putin said last week that Russia should take pride in handling over 40 percent of global space launches but must not be confined to the role of a “ferryman.”
Roskosmos will receive $753 million for ferrying 12 U.S. astronauts to the space station during 2014-2016, NASA announced last month. Russia has earned some $2.5 billion from NASA and partner agencies for 42 seats on Soyuz craft since 2007.