The Skolkovo Foundation is preparing to expand beyond planet Earth this autumn, when its subsidiary, the Skolkovo Orbital Launch Centre (SOLC), is set to send satellites into space.

“Our first launches are planned for October this year,” said Alexei Belyakov, head of the foundation’s space and telecommunications technologies cluster. “We are launching four spacecraft in October: three foreign satellites and one Russian one made by the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI).”

Alexei Belyakov, left, and MAI rector Alexander Rozhdestvensky shaking hands at Skolkovo. Photo:

He said the satellite designed by the MAI was intended for scientific research activity and was equipped with devices for testing the atmosphere. The others were made by European and American universities.

“These are research satellites, not commercial ones. We had people who wanted to launch commercial craft that would be used for business, but we decided not to take on commercial clients for the first launch,” said Belyakov, a vice president of the Skolkovo Foundation, speaking this week in Novosibirsk.

The Skolkovo probes will be launched from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in neighbouring Kazakhstan.

The Skolkovo Foundation and MAI signed an agreement at the end of last year to jointly develop a programme for launching small artificial satellites. The agreement envisages putting into orbit satellites created by science organisations, students and small businesses.

In the future, SOLC plans to launch a nanosatellite designed at Skoltech, the foundation’s science and technology institute, Ivan Kosenkov, an analyst at the space cluster said last month. Members of the space cluster have already held a workshop with professors and students from Skoltech’s Space Centre, as well as with the foundation’s partner company Dauria Aerospace and resident startup Sputnix.

Professors and students from Skoltech's Space Centre meeting with representatives of the foundation's space cluster to discuss launching a nanosatellite next year. Photo: Skoltech.

Belyakov has not ruled out that commercial launches could be made via SOLC next year. He told in an earlier interview that the problem of a lack of opportunities to send small craft into orbit was being felt more acutely every year:  the waiting time for a launch is at least one year, and as they are generally sent into orbit as secondary payloads, there is no regular frequency to their launch.

“That’s exactly why we are setting up an Orbital Launch Centre at Skolkovo – to ease the problem of launches and spur on the development of small spacecraft in Russia,” he said, shortly after the centre’s creation was announced in September.

“Moreover, we’re doing it in close cooperation with Roscosmos [the federal space agency], with its full support. Without that support, the project would be impossible to implement,” said Belyakov.

The space cluster director said that the remit of the SOLC, a subsidiary of the foundation, would encompass all stages of the launch, from searching for clients and marketing to the organization and execution of the launch itself at the cosmodrome.

“Firstly, we want to create a market-oriented service for the producers of small spacecraft, and secondly, we want to ensure that Russian manufacturers have the opportunity to put their products into space via a Russian carrier-rocket,” Belyakov said.

“Having said that, the project was conceived as an international one. If an international company comes to us wanting to launch their CubeSat [miniature research satellite] via our centre, of course we’ll give them the opportunity to do so, but at commercial prices. Russian companies, on the other hand, will get a discount,” he added.

Belyakov unveiled the planned timetable for the space launches in Novosibirsk, where the Skolkovo Startup Tour arrived for a two-day visit on Tuesday. Having already visited Irkutsk and Vladivostok, the roadshow - which is combing Russia for promising tech startups - is currently being hosted by Academpark, the technopark of the city’s historical science town.

More than 1,500 people registered to take part in the event in Novosibirsk, including hopeful entrepreneurs from neighbouring regions such as the republic of Altai and Altai region, and the Kemerovo, Omsk and Tomsk regions.

For the full Russian text of the earlier interview with Belyakov upon the launch of the Skolkovo Orbital Launch Centre, click here