Oleg Mansurov, SR Space: ‘We have a different front of work, and here we also have to show results’
Founder of the private Russian space company — about business and mobilisation, trends in cosmonautics, and cooperation with the KFU
Oleg Mansurov's lecture “Trends in World Cosmonautics. How to build a space business in Russia” has been held at the Kazan Federal University as part of the “Open Society” cycle. . The speaker is the organiser of the world's largest hackathon “Digital Breakthrough”, head and founder of the private domestic company SR Space, which produces super-light class launch vehicles, small spacecraft and satellite constellation. In March, SR Space announced the development of a line of its own rocket engines. The corporation has several divisions in a number of regions, its own production sites and a testing field. The team has more than 70 employees: design engineers, chemists, ballistics, mathematicians, programmers, specialists in rocket and satellite engineering and others. As Mansurov said in the interview with Realnoe Vremya, the company plans to cooperate with the Kazan university in the field of decoding satellite images and launching a small spacecraft.
Cooperation with Kazan scientists in orbit
Oleg, could you tell us why you are in Kazan today, and what are your impressions of the meeting with the scientific community of the KFU?
I would like to start by saying that I just love Kazan, I have been to the city more than ten times. I made a career here. The world record that we set for the first time as organisers of the world's largest hackathon “Digital Breakthrough” was just held in Kazan with the support of the government of Tatarstan. Kazan is a strong scientific and technological centre, so the KFU, as a centre of knowledge, education and science, is interesting to me in the field of my activity. Certainly, I came here at the invitation of the university administration. Besides, the university has developments and personnel that are needed for the work and growth of our company.
What did you learn from these meetings?
Today I have had the opportunity to meet with the heads of several departments. It became clear that we can establish cooperation in the field of decoding satellite images, develop an electronic component base, and most importantly, establish cooperation in launching a small spacecraft. Most likely, in December I will send my staff to Kazan so that they can discuss at the expert level with university specialists how we can interact.
Is the small satellite your experimental development or it was created for a specific customer?
I can't disclose all the information yet. But there are two possible directions of its application — it is an experimental apparatus for solving scientific problems for conducting experiments in orbit. The second task is to place the target payload, which will be able to collect data, thanks to remote sensing from the Earth.
The industry is being rebuilt, engaged in import substitution
Unmanned aerial vehicles perform a similar mission — they collect information during a flight along a certain route. It is known that they are put into commercial operation by industrial companies. Do you consider UAVs as competitors?
No, on the contrary. Space satellites complement the development of UAVs. If we talk about the management of large UAV constellations, then satellite communications and the Internet are necessary for them. If we talk about the large-scale development of unmanned transport in Russia, then it is impossible to do without spacecraft in providing them with communication. It is the satellites that can guarantee the quality of communication. In addition, the satellites can carry out survey sensing of a large area. And when fixing some changes and events, drones can be sent there to perform an immediate task.
Your company attracted private investments. Are investors interested in your activities now?
Yes, we are currently working only at the expense of private investment. This is the money of Russian private entrepreneurs. Just recently, one of these investments have been made. Now the topic of space is gaining momentum, and our company has become more stable and understandable. We have a certain reputation and are willing to invest in it.
Under the conditions of sanctions, Russia is cut off from access to advanced technologies. How has this affected your project?
Today, at the lecture, I was asked this question. If we talk about our company, we do not face this. We are a private small company, so we are not subject to sanctions. In our work, we use mainly the Russian component base of the industrial class, it is publicly available. We do not use Military Space components.
If we talk about the situation in the industry, then, of course, there are many problems here. Supply chains have been disrupted. Now the industry has to be rebuilt — somewhere it is necessary to engage in import substitution, somewhere to buy from other suppliers in friendly countries.
We didn't have much time to build relationships with foreign companies. The only thing is that they stopped working with Koreans. They were supposed to create a joint venture with a South Korean industrial holding, just to develop a launch vehicle. We planned to use the Korean electronics and control system. But since South Korea was included in the list of unfriendly countries, we stopped cooperation. This programme has been frozen.
We have a different front of work
Nevertheless, you have opened a representative office in Dubai. Does it help to circumvent sanctions restrictions?
We do not circumvent any restrictions, because we do not have them. We are a small business entity, a private company without state participation. The representative office was created to search for foreign investments, customers and purchase foreign components. In addition, our company was created before the onset of current events. The first visit to the Emirates was last year. Now we are thinking about opening a representative office in one of the regions of Southeast Asia. While we are thinking about the location. This is not due to trade restrictions. If you look for a client in a certain region, then you need to be in that region. The difference in time zones and distances limit in confidential contact.
What interests your customers in this region?
Private companies are interested in remote sensing of the earth — optical and radar images and communication satellites.
Can SR Space's activities be compared to Elon Musk's SpaceX business?
To be honest, I didn't think about it.
In September, the partial mobilisation of citizens was announced to participate in the special operation in Ukraine. How has this affected the work of your company?
Personally I did not receive a summons. But such enterprises as ours fall under the reservation, and employees are exempt from mobilisation. This applies to many IT companies and those related to space industry. No one has been mobilised in our company. We have a different front of work and here we also have to show successes and results.
Does the state have an interest in your developments?
Yes, but so far we have an early stage of development, we have not yet grown into technology giants. It is premature to talk about any kind of full-fledged cooperation. But the state helps us grow. One of the companies that is part of our group has become a resident of STC Sirius and enjoys a preferential tax regime. We see the participation of Kazan Federal University in the development of the component base, so far a small series. In the case of the creation of space groups, there may be a large series. The KFU has a technological reserve. But I can't name the release dates of the first product yet. This will be clear when we sign the agreements.
Oleg Mansurov is the founder and CEO of SR Space JSC, a private Russian manufacturer of super-light class launch vehicles, small spacecraft and satellite constellation
Graduated from the Department of Ecotechnologies and Engineering of the National University of Science and Technology MISiS. During the years of study, he completed internships in the USA and Switzerland. During his studies at the university, he headed the centre for the development of youth entrepreneurship and created his first technology business. At the age of 26, he taught the subject “Technology transfer and technological entrepreneurship” at the Moscow Polytechnic University.
In October 2017, he founded his own IT company Aktum. In 2018, the company attracted investments in the amount of 200 million rubles and became a leader in the market of technological competitions.
In 2019, based on the experience of previous projects, he developed and proposed the project “Digital Breakthrough”, which was included in the platform of the ANO “Russia — Land of Opportunities”. This project is aimed at identifying talents and forming a community of leaders of the country's digital economy. The final of the All-Russian contest “Digital Breakthrough”, which was led by Oleg Mansurov, entered the Guinness Book of Records as the largest hackathon by the number of participants in the world. The competitions of such a scale as “Digital Breakthrough” have not yet been held in Russia, the project covered information technology professionals from all over the country.
Mansurov became the winner of the competition “Young leaders of the Runet”, organised by the All-Russian Association of Electronic Communications (RAEC) in one of the most competitive nominations — “Management”.
Since July 2020, he has managed the company he founded, SR Space JSC.