Russia rolls out a full-scale mockup of a next-generation spacecraft
First published: 2011 June 30
A scale model representing the PTK NP spacecraft architecture as of 2010-2011. Main changes from the previous incarnation of the design include the removal of a gondola with attitude control thrusters from the front of the crew module and the replacement of the thermal protection tiles with blanket shielding.
In June 2011, Russian engineers were putting finishing touches on the life-size model of a new manned vehicle designed to carry Russian cosmonauts into orbit in the 21st century. The full-scale mockup, including the interior of the six-seat cabin, was to be ready in August, just in time for the Moscow Air and Space Show, MAKS, held at the Zhukovsky airfield.
The spacecraft, known so far only as PTK NP, which stands for the New Generation Piloted Transport Spacecraft, will replace venerable Soyuz, as the nation’s manned space vehicle.
After several years of initial studies, the preliminary design of PTK NP was started at the beginning of 2009 and was completed a year later. In 2011, the second stage of development, known as Technical Project, was underway, with RKK Energia based in the town of Korolev on northeastern outskirts of Moscow, serving as the main contractor.
During Paris Air and Space Show in Le Bourget, RKK Energia presented scaled models and blueprints of the PTK NP spacecraft, which featured a number of changes to the design of the vehicle comparing to its previous revision shown to the public in 2009. At the time, the crew module of the spacecraft was to be protected during the reentry into the Earth atmosphere with two types of reusable tiles placed in a brick-like pattern, resembling that of the US Space Shuttle. However the latest depiction of the vehicle reveals monolith panels, which most likely would have to be replaced after each mission. Still, two types of protective surfaces were used: a dark material on the side of the vehicle which would experience the highest temperature during the reentry and a light material on less critical areas of the module. Also, the crew module lost its chin-like gondola, which was originally intended to contain attitude control thrusters. Both changes were expected since 2010.
Refining of the spacecraft design and detailing of its components was the main purpose of the latest phase of development. In addition to the work on blueprints and manufacturing of various elements for experiments, the Technical Project also included the construction of full-scale prototypes of the spacecraft. Engineers would often need numerous mockups to model various aspects of the design, particularly the layout of the interior and ergonomics of the cabin. This work was actually started during the preliminary design as a largely informal initiative by Russian cosmonaut and RKK Energia engineer, Yuri Usachev. He used mostly wood to mock up various details of the interior of the future spacecraft. This work eventually attracted the attention of the wider team involved into the PTK NP project.
During 2011, RKK Energia also reportedly continued issuing technical assignments and mass requirements to its sub-contractors and worked on preparing experiments to validate most critical technologies of the project.
In the meantime, despite improving financial state of the Russian space program, in June 2011, the head of RKK Energia, Vitaly Lopota, complained to the Russian media, that funding of the PTK NP project had remained the levels, which would be required for the on-time development of the spacecraft.
While engineers were busy with technical work, RKK Energia’s management was stilled embroiled in disagreement with Roskosmos over the strategy in manned space flight. The agency insisted on the development of a nearly 23-ton spacecraft to be launched by a non-existing rocket from a non-existing launch site which RKK Energia saw as a monumental pipe dream. Fearing the emergence of several privately held manned spacecraft ventures in the US, RKK Energia urged Roskosmos to scale down the PTK NP project before it was too late. The 12-ton version of the PTK NP spacecraft could fly from the existing pad in Baikonur on the Energia-KV launcher derived from the off-the-shelf Zenit. Despite the agency’s refusal to go along with the idea back in 2010, RKK Energia again displayed Energia-KV launcher at the Paris Air and Space Show in Le Bourget in June 2011.
RKK Energia also made some overtures toward its potential rivals in the US, exploring the possibility of cooperation with Boeing on its CST-100 crew capsule. RKK Energia could potentially supply components for the US spacecraft, such as docking mechanisms, or even engage in a joint development of the US-Russian manned vehicle if the political climate would make it possible.
Writing, illustrations and photography by Anatoly Zak; Last update: March 31, 2019
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RKK Energia demonstrated the first scale model of the PTK NP (PPTS) spacecraft at the Moscow Air and Space Show in August 2009. The model revealed the use of reusable thermal protective tiles on the spacecraft. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
A model of PTK NP presented at Le Bourget in June 2011 no longer featured a front gondola with thrusters and thermal protection tiles. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak
RKK Energia still promotes a Zenit-derived Energia-K/KV rocket as an alternative to the Rus-M launch vehicle, as this display at Paris Air and Space show in Le Bourget in June 2011 testified. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak
PTK NP architecture as of 2011. Credit: RKK Energia
Four different types of thermal protection materials were proposed for the crew module of the future spacecraft. Credit: RKK Energia