In order to launch a drone in Russia, one must request permission in the Mission Control Center (MCC) within three days. So it turns out that most of the drones’ launches are illegal. This was stated in an interview with the InSpace Forum 2018 speaker, head of the MTI aerospace laboratory – Denis Efremov. We talked to Denis about legal difficulties associated with the development of the laboratory, and the popularity of stratospheric and space tourism.
Interviewer: InSpace Forum (InSF)
Respondent: Denis Efremov (D.E.)
InSF: Hello, Denis. One of the developments of the MTI aerospace laboratory is a drone, delivering equipment for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Tell us, what legal difficulties can one face in Russian realia when using such a drone?
D.E.: Legal difficulties are the main problem we face when implementing the project. The operation of copters and other unmanned aerial vehicles is not yet regulated in Russia. For example, Moscow is a no-flying zone. Only helicopters of emergency services can fly in the airspace of the city. In theory, our drone with a defibrillator could pass as an ambulance, but so far, this is unclear from a legal point of view. And no one can really say anything, because there is still no working law on drones.
Another problem is also a legal one, but it is concerning the use of a defibrillator. Unlike many countries where absolutely all citizens can use it, in Russia, the right to use the defibrillator is given only to physicians.
InSF: In other words, if an ordinary citizen (not a doctor) uses the defibrillator on a person who had a heart attack, they could be punished for their actions?
D.E.: Exactly. If there’re not a medic, they can not use a defibrillator. Even though our device is fully automated. It determines whether it can harm a person: if there is a pulse, the device will not clear. But the law dictates its rules. There are a lot of bureaucratic and legal problems – our legislation lags behind here.
InSF: Is there a positive trend in the development of relevant bills on copters in Russia?
D.E.: Of course. The MTI aerospace laboratory and developers of the defibrillator have done some work in this direction. We interact with legislative bodies on this matter. But it is difficult – the story with the law on registration of unmanned vehicles can happen again: it was accepted and canceled several times. The rules of UAV registration changed, and the organizations responsible for registration officially replied that they did not know how to do this and could not register anything. In other words, it is difficult to predict what the regulation of this area in Russia will be like.
Now, according to the law, every citizen has to contact the MCC in three days with a request for permission to fly in a specific area. They must provide a complete flight plan: indicating the altitude, route and time. It is clear that this is not easy, and few people conduct flights according to all rules.
InSF: What technical difficulties did you encounter when developing a drone with the defibrillator?
D.E.: The only difficulty that by the way still exists is landing. Because automatically take off and get to the location given by coordinates is not a problem. But to land in an unknown place is more difficult. There can be various obstacles: wires, people, trees, cars and many other things.
This task is being solved now: we are developing a neuropilot, which will be able to analyze the territory and choose the best place for landing. For this, we will equip the drone with sensors: radars, lidars and other devices that will provide the needed information about the surrounding space.
There are also minor problems – load capacity, type of battery, energy consumption by the defibrillator and the drone itself. But these are standard difficulties – they can be solved.
InSF: How popular are drones in Russia? What are the obstacles in the development of this area in the country?
D.E.: Drones are very popular now. Sales are excellent, especially for copters, which are designed for shooting video material. At the same time, 90% of users, if not 99%, violate the law on the use of airspace. There is a collision: the market is huge, people who own copters are very many, but according to the law, they can not use them.
The drone market itself has no problems. There are legal obstacles. Many people do not even suspect that they violate the law somehow. There is a problem of registering drones, but it is not the most important one. The main thing is using airspace. No one applies for the child to fly a mini-drone in the air for 20 minutes. Professional companies are a different thing, this is what they do – they apply for the use of airspace.
InSF: Another project of your laboratory is Near Space, aimed at the development of flights to the stratosphere. Tell us, who and why will need to fly to the stratosphere?
D.E.: We have been doing these flights for seven years and we’ve done about 70 launches, among the main customers are educational institutions and scientists. For the latter, we conduct experiments in conditions close to space: we raise the drones to a height where the temperature reaches – 60°C, there is practically no air and high level of radiation.
The launch of drones into the stratosphere can also be ordered by engineers. When it is necessary to develop some technologies, we sometimes launch satellite components. In addition, we have a fairly large market of advertising launches, when we simply launch logos of companies into the stratosphere.
There are plans for manned tourist flights. There are only a few such projects in the world – in Europe and the United States. Now we are trying to calculate the ticket price for a stratospheric tourist. We plan to fly a human to a height of 40 km on a stratostat. In fact, it's a huge balloon filled with helium.
InSF: How long will it take to develop your stratospheric tourism project?
D.E.: It depends on the financing. At least one year, with significant funding. All this has already been partially worked out, and in the 60s, Russia conducted stratostat flights. Today the most difficult thing is a spacesuit. In theory, it can be bought.
InSF: Regarding the stratospheric flight. How will the tourist get ready to fly to the stratosphere?
D.E.: According to our project, nothing is required from the tourist, except for good health. We have the option, where the tourist is completely in the hands of an instructor, who conducts the flight. There is also an option where the tourist flies by himself or herself. In the latter case, of course, serious preparation is required: control of the stratostat, parachute training, working out the unusual situations.
InSF: And what about suborbital flights and tourist flights to the ISS? What training is needed in these cases?
D.E.: Almost the same. But the tourists will not have the option to fly alone (at least, in the next 50 years, for sure). There will be a pilot, instructors and tourists, in fact, will be just passengers. A little is required of them, except for sound health: a suborbital flight will include weightlessness, and a person must be ready for it.
InSF: In your opinion: how popular will space tourism be say, in 100 years?
D.E.: This is a difficult question, because 60 years ago people were sure that in 20 years they will already walk around on Mars. Then the speed of development of the space industry was high. Now we have a different paradigm. State funding for space programs has greatly decreased, but serious private players have emerged. And if such businessmen as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos are investing in space, it means that they see the prospects in this industry. And not in a100 years, but 20-30 years.
The market of space tourism already exists. Not that long ago people were willing to pay $50 million for a flight to the ISS and there was a queue of those wishing. Now I know people who have already paid $100-200 thousand for a suborbital flight, although such flights are only at the development stage.
InSF: On March 21, you will give a presentation at InSpace Forum 2018. What will you talk to the audience about?
D.E.: I will give two presentations. In the first, I'll talk about the drone that can deliver the defibrillator in detail: about its landing system and legal problems. I will dedicate the second report to flights to the stratosphere: I will talk about the capabilities of the MTI aerospace laboratory and piloted tourism.
Register to InSpace Forum 2018 and learn more about stratospheric tourism in Russia.
Get an overview of the global space market