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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Wins Rocket-Parachute Deal

The Russian space industry will take another step into the world commercial satellite launch market Tuesday when it signs a $4 million contract to build part of a European rocket.

Under Tuesday's deal, the Russian Institute of Parachute Construction will build a parachute system to recover solid-fuel booster rockets that will power the Ariane 5, the European Space Agency's next generation rocket.

The Russian rocket industry has quickly developed into a formidable competitor for rocket manufacturers in Europe, the United States and Japan because of its proven technology and low prices.

Russia this year signed its first commercial deal to launch a U. S. satellite for the Inmarsat consortium on a Russian Proton rocket, but the contract and a pact giving Russia access to the satellite market to the year 2000 are now embroiled in a diplomatic dispute over exports of rocket technology with potential military uses.

Geert Knippenberg, manager of contracts for Fokker Space & Systems, the Dutch aerospace firm that is supervising the Ariane 5 booster recovery project, said that this was the first ESA contract for a Russia company to manufacture hardware.

He said that the Russian firm had won the contract because it could supply its services for about one-third the price of European competitors. "We started working with a European consortium but costs exploded", he said.

The Russian firm is so cheap that its parachutes will only account for a small part of the total $10 million cost of the booster recovery program.

He said that Russia also led the world in parachute technology, partly because its rockets come down on dry ground at landing fields in Kazakhstan, rather than in the sea, and need to hit the ground at much lower speeds.

Russia has developed parachutes that can slow rockets to speeds of 10 meters per second on impact, compared to about 25 meters per second for other countries.

The Russian parachutes will pop out in three stages to cushion the fall of three booster rockets that will power Ariane 5 into space, stopping the tumbling motions after the rockets detach from the payload and then slowing them as they fall to the ground.

Knippenberg said the parachutes would be used to recover the boosters so they could be analyzed for faults.

Such checks will allow ESA to improve reliability and reduce insurance premiums which are a major cost.

The parachutes will be constructed by a joint venture between the Institute of Parachute Construction and a Spanish company, Confecciones Industriales Madrilenas SA.

The ESA plans to launch the first Ariane 5, a bigger successor to the Ariane 4, in October 1995.

The institute, located in Moscow, which has built parachutes for every Russian space shot since Yury Gargarin's first manned-space flight, will design, develop and manufacture parachute systems for the first two Ariane 5 launches.