PTK project completes paper phase

In 2016, the Russian effort to build a new-generation transport spacecraft hit another hurdle, when technical and financial problems forced the developers to abandon a four-launch scenario for the lunar expeditions based on Angara-5V rockets. To reach anywhere beyond the low Earth orbit, the new-generation transport ship had to fall back to a non-existing super-heavy launcher, whose development had stalled in 2014 due to lack of funding. Still, a lunar expedition remained the official goal of the Russian space program, even though Russian cosmonauts were not expected to walk on the Moon until at least 2030.


External design of the PTK/Federatsiya spacecraft as of 2016.

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Economic problems hamper strategic planning

By the beginning of 2016, Roskosmos had to cancel the construction of the second launch pad for the Angara rocket in Vostochny. For the PTK/Federatsiya spacecraft, it meant that an already complicated scenario of a lunar expedition with four Angara-5V rockets had gotten even more cumbersome if not impossible. During the first half of 2016, developers tried to draft a launch campaign for a lunar expedition relying on just a single pad. Even though only one of four launches in an expedition would carry the crew, developers were still hard pressed to minimize the window between launches to just a few days due to the use of quickly evaporating cryogenic propellants on the Block DM-03 and KVTK space tugs to be employed in the mission.

The shortest intervals between launches of multiple rockets from a single pad were estimated to be between seven and 10 days. Studies showed, that with some upgrades, the planned single launch pad in Vostochny could be made compatible with the Angara-5V rocket sometimes after 2025.

However by the middle of the year, the entire strategy of relying on the Angara-5V rocket for human missions to the Moon was deemed too risky and unreliable. Instead, Russia's lunar plans defaulted back to a hypothetical super-heavy launcher.

PTK development approaches metal stage

During 2016, as in previous years, Roskosmos had very little to show for the actual development of the PTK spacecraft. At the conclusion of the Scientific and Technical Council meeting on April 11 at the project's prime contractor RKK Energia, the chief designer Evgeny Mikrin told journalists that the PTK project would enter the manufacturing stage after the completion of the design documentation development in June. According to Mikrin, the new contract long expected from Roskosmos would mark the beginning of the production of the spacecraft's components and the development of flight software.

On October 6, Roskosmos announced that it had formulated requirements for a new phase in the development of the PTK spacecraft. Around the same time, the agency revealed a 57.5-billion-ruble ($948 million) budget for the ship's development from 2016 to 2025:

Millions of rubles
Millions of US dollars*

*Currency exchange rate as of Dec. 27, 2016

However, according to Oleg Kotov, from the TsNIIMash research institute, quoted by Rambler News Service in November, the PTK project was still in the working documentation development stage, with only some components of the spacecraft undergoing development and testing.

In the first half of 2016, RKK Energia officials said that the certification process led by TsNIIMash was underway to select the structural materials for the PTK project. The outcome of the process became evident in the fall, when the executive director for manned space at Roskosmos Sergei Krikalev told the TASS news agency that the developers had rejected composite materials for the crew compartment of the Return Vehicle, VA, in favor of the traditional aluminum. The work with composite materials was relegated to experimental studies of potential future designs, Krikalev said. The move reversed previous efforts to build the entire body of the crew module out of composite materials, which had been widely advertised just a year ago.

Among a few known development activities that went beyond paper during 2016 were ergonomic tests conducted at RKK Energia's flight testing department. According to the company, its engineers used a full-scale mockup of the crew cabin to try out flight control systems inside the cockpit and to develop manual control interfaces, such as a joystick-like attitude control handle.

In total, RKK Energia planned to built up to nine prototypes of the crew module, which would be used in drop tests, as well as for thermal-vacuum, electric, fueling tests and many other activities. Three mockups of the Propulsion Module, DO, were also planned.

In May, RKK Energia also announced a patent for the Termaloks material intended for the thermal shielding of the Return Vehicle, VA.

New subcontractors for PTK

There were also signs that RKK Energia has continued distributing the development work on PTK to its sub-contractors. On January 27, the Head of RKK Energia Vladimir Solntsev and the Director of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems of Space Flight, IMBP, Oleg Orlov signed a cooperation agreement on various medical aspects of the PTK project, including the development of the "man-machine interfaces."

In July, ZAO Orbita based in the city of Voronezh announced a contract with RKK Energia to develop equipment for power distribution and control aboard the PTK spacecraft, which had to be delivered in 2020. In December, NII Parashutostroeniya announced an agreement with RKK Energia on post-preliminary design work on PTK's parachute system. The contract covered the development work until 2023. A total of 40 prototypes of parachute systems were to be built for various tests.

In October, Sergei Pozdnyakov, the head of NPP Zvezda specialized in life-support systems, told TASS news agency that the company had completed preliminary designs for the reusable rescue flight suit, the Cheget cosmonaut seat and an individual life-support system to be used on the PTK spacecraft. According to Pozdnyakov, NPP Zvezda also had built a prototype of the Cheget chair, which was transferred to RKK Energia for use with the ergonomics test prototype of the crew cabin.

Development challenges

To sustain the ambitious development schedule, RKK Energia needed to approve a technical assignment for the full-scale development of the PTK spacecraft and for the Amur launch system with the Angara-5P rocket before the end of 2016. This phase of the development, known as LKI-1, was expected to extend until 2025. As the only prime contractor in the LKI-1 phase, RKK Energia also needed to receive a long-delayed State Contract from Roskosmos, which would fund the work.

During the LKI-1 development phase, RKK Energia would have to build and test the spacecraft itself, as well as its emergency escape system, RBAS, and the payload section (upper composite), KGCh, which would integrate the spacecraft with the Angara-5P launch vehicle. In turn, the Angara-5P rocket would need a new launch pad and the pre-launch processing infrastructure, which would have to be funded through a separate federal program known as the Cosmodromes Development During the Period from 2016 to 2025. A delay with its approval during 2016, could potentially hamper the PTK program.

By 2016, the overall PTK project was apparently subdivided into several major sub-programs:

  • The Amur launch vehicle complex with the Angara-5P rocket;
  • The PTK Federatsiya spacecraft system;
  • Landing and initial post-flight servicing facilities;
  • The cosmonaut pre-flight training facility;
  • The crew pre-launch preparation facility;
  • The cosmonaut search and rescue service;
  • Ground control facilities for the PTK missions;
  • The technical processing complex for the PTK spacecraft and the emergency escape system, RBAS;
  • Means of transportation for the launch vehicle components;
  • Means of post-flight processing for the Return Vehicle, VA;
  • Means of cosmonaut training;
  • Upgrades to a fueling facility at the processing complex in Vostochny for loading propellants aboard the PTK spacecraft.

As of 2016, these sub-programs were to be developed according to the following milestones:

Development tasks or milestones
The approval of the technical assignment and federal contract for the development of PTK spacecraft and KRK Amur/Angara-5P launch system.
The beginning of work on initial specifications and design documentation for the cosmonaut training equipment.

2018, ~3rd quarter

The completion of the preliminary design and the beginning of the development of the landing zone equipment and servicing systems for the initial post-flight servicing.
The completion of the initial specifications and design documentation for the pre-launch crew training facility and the beginning of the construction, outfitting and testing phase.

2018, ~4th quarter The completion of the technical assignment, design documentation and operational documentation and the signing of contracts for the development of the launch vehicle transportation hardware and the beginning of its manufacturing and testing.

2019, ~2nd quarter

The completion of initial specifications and the design documentation for the pre-flight cosmonaut training facility and the beginning of its construction, outfitting and testing.

2019 ~3rd quarter

The completion of the technical assignment, signing of the contract, the completion of the operational documentation and design documentation for facilities and hardware of the PTK and RBAS processing complex. The beginning of the manufacturing, construction and testing.

The completion of the design documentation, manufacturing and outfitting of the post-flight servicing complex for the Return Vehicle, VA.

2020, ~3rd quarter The completion of initial specifications and the working/design documentation for means of cosmonaut training. The beginning of hardware manufacturing and testing.
2020, ~3rd quarter The completion of the initial specifications and working/design documentation for means of cosmonaut training. To begin hardware manufacturing and testing.
2021, ~3rd quarter The completion of manufacturing and ground testing of the PTK spacecraft, RBAS and KGCh; as well as the ground control complex and means of transportation for launch vehicle components.
2021, ~3rd quarter The beginning of integrated testing of the modified fueling station with the PTK mockup.
2022, ~1st quarter The completion of construction and testing of the PTK and RBAS processing complex and the landing and initial post-flight servicing facilities. (Ready for the 1st launch)
2022, ~3rd quarter The formation of an inter-agency commission and the beginning of testing of the cosmonaut search and rescue service.
2022, ~3rd quarter The completion of integrated testing of the modified fueling station with the PTK mockup.
2022, ~4th quarter The completion of construction of the crew pre-launch preparation complex.
2023, ~1st quarter The completion of construction and testing of the pre-flight cosmonaut training facility.
2023, ~2nd quarter The completion of testing of the Amur launch system with the Angara-5P rocket. (Ready for 2nd unmanned flight)
2024, ~2nd quarter The completion of testing of the Return Vehicle post-flight servicing complex and means of cosmonaut training (ready for the first manned launch of PTK spacecraft)

At the end of the PTK development program, RKK Energia planned to build three flight-worthy spacecraft, including one for the first unmanned test launch and another for one unmanned and one manned mission to the ISS. The third vehicle would be used for unmanned missions in the vicinity of the Moon in the second half of the 2020s.

Flight test plans

As of 2016, the first unmanned launch of the PTK spacecraft into the low Earth's orbit was still officially targeted for the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022, however industry sources indicated that this timeframe would be practically impossible to keep. Had it been achieved, another launch of the unmanned PTK would be possible in the first half of 2023 for an automated docking at the ISS. Roskosmos floated an idea of flying "android technology" aboard unmanned missions of the PTK, referring to a humanoid robot in the ship's pilot seat.

The first mission of the spacecraft with the actual crew heading to the ISS was promised at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024.

All three PTK missions in the low Earth orbit would be launched on the Angara-5P rocket from the yet-to-be-built launch pad in Vostochny.

By the beginning of 2026, the upgraded Angara-5V rocket should become available, launching an unmanned version of the PTK on a lunar flyby mission. Between the middle of 2027 and 2029, Roskosmos promised the introduction of a super-heavy rocket, such as Energia-5V/KV, which would send the unmanned PTK into orbit around the Moon.

Before the end of 2028, the unmanned prototype of a lunar landing and ascent vehicle should make its first test flight to the surface of the Moon. Within a year after that, the first PTK with a crew should enter the lunar orbit, where it could rendezvous with the ascent stage of the first lunar lander in the final dress rehearsal before the lunar landing.

The first Russian expedition to the surface of the Moon is now promised in 2030 or 2031. According to the latest scenario, it will be accomplished with three launches of super-heavy rockets. The first two unmanned boosters will deliver the expeditionary support module, LEM, onto the surface of the Moon and a manned lander without the crew into the lunar orbit. The PTK spacecraft with the crew of three will follow, docking with the lunar lander in lunar orbit. Crew members will then transfer into the lander and descent to the lunar surface near the LEM module, which could support a 14-day expedition on the surface.

The first flight should be followed by annual expeditions to the Moon. Each three-launch campaign is expected to deliver various long-term modules to the surface, including a habitat, a rover, a lab and a power station.

Interestingly, the general mission architecture proposed in the PTK project resembles the scenarios first developed in the USSR in the early 1970s for the N1-L3M project.

The PTK flight test milestones as of 2016:

2021-2022 March
First unmanned test launch of the PTK NP spacecraft into low Earth orbit on the Angara-5P rocket
Unmanned flight of the PTK to ISS
2023-2024 March
Manned flight of the PTK to ISS
First unmanned flyby of the Moon
First unmanned launch of the LVPK module to the lunar orbit and test landing
Unmanned mission of the LVPK module in the lunar orbit
First unmanned flight of the PTK spacecraft into lunar orbit (Introduction a super-heavy launcher)
First manned flight of the PTK spacecraft into lunar orbit docking with LVPK ascent stage in lunar orbit
Launch of LGPK with LEM to lunar orbit
Launch of LVPK to lunar orbit
First manned lunar landing


Specifications of the PTK/Federatsiya spacecraft as announced by Roskosmos on Oct. 6, 2016:

Number of flights for the Return Craft, VA
Lunar mission duration with a crew of four
30 days
Mission duration, when docked at the Lunar Orbital Station, LOS
No less than 180 days
Mission duration when docked to the Earth-orbiting space station with a crew up to six
No less than 365 days


To be continued


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The article and visualizations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: December 31, 2016

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: December 29, 2016

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Engineers from the flight testing department at RKK Energia work on the ergonomic mockup of the crew module. Credit: Roskosmos


In June, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin inspected a structure of the PTK Descent Module made of composite, while engineers apparently rejected the use of the material in the next-generation spacecraft. Credit: Russian government


A small-scale model of the parachute system for the PTK spacecraft. Credit: Roskosmos