Russian space program:
By 2007, the Moon has emerged as the main goal of the Russian manned space program. This artist rendering depicts a concept of a lander, which was drafted in the early planning of Russian lunar expeditions at the turn of the 21st century. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
Geopolitics and space
In May 2001, a respectable American magazine published an apocalyptic prophesy entitled "Russia is Finished." Intellectualizing the conventional wisdom of the 1990s, the article confidently promised "the unstoppable descent of a once great power into social catastrophe and strategic irrelevance." Little did the editors of the publication know that just a few months later, the only remaining superpower would be hit with the worst terrorist attack in its history, dragging its government into a protracted and costly conflict across the world. One of the unintended consequences of the post-September 11 global instability, combined with economic boom in Asia, became soaring oil prices, which quickly turned Russia's natural resources-driven economy from bust to boom.
With the Kremlin coffers full with oil revenues, the Russian government managed not simply to postpone a "social catastrophe," but to take steps to reverse its "strategic irrelevance." On the international stage, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his official doctrine the creation of a "multi-polar world," which would challenge America's military and economic dominance. By the end of his two terms in office, President Putin consolidated so much power in his hands that he could make his old secret service bosses red with envy. Putin promised to use his new financial and political muscle to repair Russia's battered economy and military might.
In 2006, Russian military spending approached 600 billion rubles, or double of its annual budget in 2000. (240) By the end of 2007, a Russian aircraft carrier group was heading back on patrol of the high seas, in a rare show of military power since the end of the Cold War. Strategic bombers, land- and submarine-based ballistic missiles resumed regular doomsday rehearsal missions.
Oil money also started trickling down into the previously underfunded space industry. To the delight of Russian space officials, increased funding was accompanied by President Putin's declaration that "...without astronautics, Russia can not compete for one of the leading positions in the world's civilization, and will not be able to provide its defense at a necessary level." (270)
To restore Russian presence beyond Earth, the Putin administration started drafting the nation's long-term space strategy. On October 22, 2005, the Russian government signed a decree No. 635, approving Federal Space Program for 2006-2015 and worth 305 billion rubles. (299) The industry was directed to propose its projects and plan its activities in the timeframe of a two-phase Federal Space Program, FKP:
The Russian space budget continued growing during the 2000s, almost doubling by 2009.
Manned space flight
Unlike in the 1990s, cooperation with NASA was no longer a centerpiece of Russia's manned space program, reflecting the new political climate in the first years of the 21st century. Although the two space agencies were continuing working closely on the construction of the International Space Station, the program was increasingly becoming a lone outpost of cooperation in the sea of unraveling hopes.
America's bullish moves to stretch NATO toward Russian borders and hastily deploy a missile defense system in Europe pushed relations between the two countries, in the words of one American diplomat, "from bad to worse." On Feb. 10, 2007, at a major security conference in Munich, Germany, President Putin accused the United States of provoking a new nuclear arms race among other sins. Western pundits talked of a new cold war, while state-controlled Russian TV was full of paranoia about Western conspiracies to weaken Russia. In such a climate, on both sides, rational ideas of building a common future for the world community were being replaced by chauvinistic urges for global economic domination and international prestige.
At the beginning of 2004, NASA essentially declared its intention to divorce from Russia and Europe with its decision to withdraw from the International Space Station program and aim for the Moon instead. Unlike the ISS, all the crucial elements of the future American lunar infrastructure would be built domestically, with no reliance on foreign contributions or major overseas contractors.
Moon race: round two
Although officially NASA left the door open to international participation in the lunar program, America's partners were left to decide for themselves about new directions in space. As rising giants of Asia -- China and India -- made their intentions for exploring the Moon loud and clear, Russia and Europe could hardly afford to stay on the sidelines of what increasingly resembled a new moon race.
Not coincidently, during 2005 and 2006, the Russian space agency and its European partners rejected a proposal from the industry to build a new-generation reusable spacecraft, which would be best suited for operations in the low-Earth orbit. The idea of a new all-Russian space station fielded around the same time did get some traction as a possible foundation for lunar and martian exploration, but only as a secondary goal. Instead, both Russian and European space officials favored the concept of a lunar-oriented project, known as ACTS. To be developed cooperatively in Europe and Russia, the future program would include a new spacecraft capable of entering lunar orbit and, eventually, a lunar lander designed to deliver humans on the surface of the Moon.
Unlike the United States, Europe represented a natural partner for Russia, since the two sides have been closely involved in every aspect of economic cooperation from energy to aviation for more than a decade. During the first years of the 21st century, Russia's chief spacecraft developer, RKK Energia, served as a major contractor in the development of the European ATV cargo ship, designed to resupply the ISS.
Still mutually suspicious of each other, Europe and Russia would have to resolve difficult and politically loaded issues of rights and responsibilities in the new project. Given limited budgets for space, both sides needed each other to accomplish such an expensive and risky enterprise as a lunar expedition; yet, both had to keep their internal constituencies and industrial lobbies satisfied. On one side, Europe wanted independent access to space for its astronauts, instead of being a mere sub-contractor for traditional Russian spacecraft developers. On the other hand, Russia was adamant about preserving its own technical independence with a full complement of spacecraft, rockets and workforce to support it. Unlike post-Soviet 1990s, Russian space industry was no longer a beggar willing to take any paying job. All these conflicting political requirements could be as important as the reentry capsule's shape and the crew size for the future lunar ship. In the end, conflicting technical requirements backdropped by the tense political atmosphere between Europe and Russia in the wake of the War in Georgia in 2008, derailed a cooperative project.
Still, according to the long-term planning of the Russian space program till 2040, manned missions to the Moon could take place within a 2025-2030 time period, while an expedition to Mars could be achieved in 2035-2040. (321) This is despite a wisdom of going to the Moon first was challenged by RKK Energia's planners, who hoped to accomplish an expedition to Mars during 2022-2035 period, pushing lunar exploration to 2030-2040. (328)
New space infrastructure
Beyond its alliance with Europe, the Russian government promised to replace its key space assets, inherited from the former USSR, with a brand-new triad of space infrastructure for the 21st century. In addition to a next-generation manned spaceship, Russia committed to build a new launch site and a fleet of rockets with a wide range of capabilities.
On April 21, 2007, an "operational meeting" of the Security Council of the Russian Federation approved a "System of views for Russia's independent access to space from its own territory for the full spectrum of tasks until 2040."
By the end of the year, Russia made the potentially momentous decision to develop a new launch facility for manned missions in the nation's Far East. On November 6, President Putin signed a decree on the creation of the Vostochny ("Eastern") launch site in the Amur Region, Russian media reported two weeks later.
If ever built, the new launch site would mark a historic shift of the Russian manned space program from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to its own territory. From the moment the Soviet Union disintegrated in December 1991, Russian officials have promised to abandon Baikonur and shift operations to the existing launch site in Plesetsk and to a newly built facility in Svobodny. However, the severe financial crisis of the 1990s stalled all these plans. More than a decade later, record-high oil prices reinvigorated Moscow's ambitions in space and made new large-scale federal projects more realistic.
The creation of the new launch site aimed to end Russian dependency on Kazakhstan, whose government charged multi-million-dollar annual fees for the rent of Baikonur. In addition, with new investments in the Russian Far East, the Kremlin hoped to tighten its grip on this remote region of the country, which in the last decade has seen considerable economic influence from China and Japan. Along with the construction of the new launch site, the Russian government promised to relocate into the region high-tech enterprises supporting the manned space program. The price tag of the whole undertaking (apparently including the development of the launch site, a new family of launch vehicles and a next-generation spacecraft) was estimated at 180 billion rubles. In the meantime, Russian budget officials reportedly capped projected spending for the program at 36 billion rubles.
Published: 2008 April 15; updated Aug. 13; 2009 Jan. 9
Four years after NASA had announced its intention to return to the Moon, Russian future goals in space remained murky. On April 11, 2008, the eve of Cosmonautics Day, the outgoing Russian president Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of his Security Council (known in Russian as Sovet Bezopasnosti), with the official goal of considering various aspects of the Russian space program until 2020.
Although few specific details, such as expected cost or exact aims of the manned space program, had been released to the taxpayers in the wake of the meeting, Russian space officials did come out with broad and sometimes contradictory statements about the direction of the national space effort.
According to Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian space agency, although Russia had committed to stay in Baikonur until its current agreement with Kazakhstan would expire in 2050, the Security Council established the year 2015 as a "solid date" of the first launch from a new space center in Vostochny.
New launchers for manned space flight
At the same time, (as of April 2008) there was apparently still no agreement on the type of launcher, which would carry manned spacecraft from the new site, Perminov admitted. He did disclose that the next-generation manned spacecraft would have a mass between 18 and 22 tons, which would be too heavy even for the most radical upgrade of the Soyuz rocket, such as Soyuz-2-3 or Soyuz-3. (A 23-ton capability was quoted by Russian officials in January 2009) As expected, Perminov cited the yet-to-be-flown Angara rocket as the best candidate for a carrier of the future manned ship. He added that the final choice of the launcher would be made based on the size of the next-generation spacecraft. Perminov also hinted that an even larger rocket would be needed for human deep-space missions, such as manned lunar expeditions.
In August 2008, Ravil Akhmetov the head of TsSKB Progress, the developer of the Soyuz rocket family, told RIA Samara news agency that the federal tender for the new launch vehicle was to be launched during 2008. There was no official annoucement that the tender had been initiated during 2008, however in January 2009, the Russian press quoted Anatoly Perminov as saying that Russian space agency would approve the design of the next-generation launch system for manned space flight in the next few months. RKK Energia, Makeev's KB Mash, TsSKB Progress and Khrunichev enterprise reportedly competed in the tender.
In the meantime, according to the Russian press, the Federal Space Program for 2006-2015 allocated 9.53 billion rubles for the development of launch facilities for the Soyuz-2 and Angara rockets in Plesetsk. Additional 17.79 billion rubles were to be spent during the second phase of construction in 2011-2015.
In April 2008, Perminov also reiterated the previously voiced Russian goal to replace the ISS with an all-Russian station in the Earth orbit. This time, he described its purpose as an assembly platform for deep-space transport ships heading to the Moon and Mars. He claimed that the Security Council had approved the plan in general, however without setting a timeframe. In January 2009, Aleksei Krasnov, the head of manned space flight directorate at the Russian space agency echoed his boss, saying that the future Russian space station in the low-Earth orbit would serve as a foundation for lunar program and, later, for expeditions to Mars.
The agency aimed for 2020, as the launch date of the new Russian outpost, to coincide with the expected deorbiting of the International Space Station. Krasnov stressed however that the project remained an unfunded proposal under evaluation by the Russsian government.
Defining new spacecraft
Even less certainty was surrounding the next-generation transport ship meant to replace the Soyuz. Just at the beginning of April 2008, the head of Roskosmos manned directorate Aleksei Krasnov assured the media that Russia and Europe were finishing negotiations on the combined development of the new-generation vehicle although a political inter-government agreement was needed to seal the deal. Both sides declared the expedition to the Moon to parallel a similar US effort as the goal of the project.
Yet, just a few days later, Vitaly Lopota, the head of RKK Energia, chief developer of manned spacecraft, told reporters that his organization could not formulate any concept of the new spacecraft without knowing "where would we fly." Speaking at a press-conference after the docking of the Soyuz TMA-12 with the ISS, Lopota, said that once the expected political decision on the destination of the program was made, RKK Energia would quickly unveil one of several concepts of the future vehicle. He promised a radically new spacecraft, capable of landing under a wide range of conditions.
Unofficial postings on a highly respectable Russian web forum, apparently originating from RKK Energia, claimed that the reentry capsule of the proposed new spacecraft would have a mass of nine tons and it would be capable of zeroing in onto a landing area with a radius of just two kilometers. A fully assembled vehicle configured to reach the ISS would have a mass of 13 tons. Another version of the ship, with a service module designed for autonomous missions, would reach 18 tons.
One speculative estimate arrived at the dry mass (without propellant) of the Moon-bound vehicle equal to 12 tons. After separation from the upper stage, which would send the vehicle from Earth orbit toward the Moon, the full mass of the spacecraft was estimated at 22.4 tons, essentially matching the numbers quoted by Perminov in the wake of the April 11 Security Council meeting
Unmanned science missions
While Russian manned space projects needed a funding boost in the wake of the post-Soviet collapse, the nation's planetary and scientific exploration had to be revived from near death in the first decade of the 21st century. Although a handful of low-cost science spacecraft was launched into the Earth orbit, no Russian deep-space mission has been attempted since 1996. With the resumption of funding for planetary science, the Phobos-Grunt project, aiming to return soil samples from the Martian moon, became a flagship Russian mission into deep space. It would be followed by Luna-Glob toward the Moon and the Venera-D mission to Venus. A fleet of three Earth-orbiting astronomy observatories of the Spektr series, scheduled for launch in 2008, 2010, and 2011, along with Koronas-Foton and Intergelio-Zond were promised funding as well, according to statements made by Russian space officials in 2006. Total five astrophysics satellites, four deep-space probes and one solar-research spacecraft were approved by the Federal Space Program until 2015. (299)
On December 3, 2007, Vladimir Putin paid a visit to NPO Lavochkin, the prime developer of Russia's planetary spacecraft and early warning satellites. At the assembly hall No. 4, Putin was shown the development version of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. The head of Lavochkin Georgy Poleshyuk promised the Russian president to launch the mission in 2009. Poleshyuk also informed the president that Russia would resume unmanned lunar missions in 2009, or three years earlier than previously planned. A mission to Venus would take place in 2015, Poleshyuk promised.
In interview with RussianSpaceWeb.com during the ILA-2008 air and space show in Berlin, Georgy Poleshyuk outlined an ambitious program of planetary exploration beyond Phobos-Grunt. "Phobos-Grunt will test the new interplanetary cruise stage, paving the way to a series of three Russian missions to Mars within Federal Space Program until 2015-2020," Poleshyuk said. According to current plans, a lander mission carrying a Mars rover would be sent to the Red Planet in 2015-2016. It would be followed by a mission to deploy a network of meteorological stations on the surface of Mars in 2020, Poleshyuk said. A mission to Venus would be launched in 2016. A total of four missions would be heading to the Moon, with the first spacecraft, Luna-Glob, scheduled for launch in 2010-2011. It would culminate with the deployment of the entire science research range on the surface of the Moon, including multiple landers and movable labs.
Beyond already approved Federal Space Program until 2020, NPO Lavochkin drafted plans for yet-to-be funded missions in the outer reaches of the Solar System. Preliminary plans for a lander or a penetrator mission to Jupiter's moon Europa were under discussion between European and Russian officials. It could take off as early as 2017. Recent NPO Lavochkin publications also described several possible concepts of planetary missions, including:
The actual implementation of these missions would depend on the success of the initial Russian attempts to jump-start its planetary exploration program, the level of funding of the Russian space program, and the ability of Russian scientists to forge cooperative agreements with their colleagues abroad.
In addition to deep-space probes, NPO Lavochkin won funding for a number of scientific missions in Earth orbit within the Federal Space Program. A low-cost multipurpose satellite bus, dubbed Karat, was promised to become a base for as many as five missions "for fundamental research", Lavochkin officials said. The total four spacecraft for the studies of the Earth's magnetosphere was also approved. (299)
For the period 2008-2015, the Federal Space Program also approved three meteorological spacecraft and two satellites for radar sensing of the Earth surface.
Key development projects in the Russian Federal Space Program from 2006 to 2015:
Key government decisions on the development of the long-term space program in Russia during 2000s:
A mockup of the European ATV cargo ship (right) next to the model of the Ariane 5 rocket (not to scale). Russian firm RKK Energia was a contractor in the development of major components for the ATV, building a foundation for possible future Russian-European cooperation in space. Click to enlarge: 400 by 300 pixels / 40K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
By the end of 2007, Russian government made a potentially momentous decision to build new launch center in the Far East. Copyright © 2007 Anatoly Zak
A speculative drawing showing the ACTS spacecraft in lunar orbit. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
Under pressure from across the Atlantic, Europe and Russia "found each other" with the renewed interest in lunar exploration. Here is the European industry's concept of a lunar lander displayed at ILA 2008 show in Berlin. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
A scale model of Russia's flagship planetary mission, Phobos-Grunt was demonstrated at the ILA 2008 air and space show in Berlin. If launched as promised in 2009, it would the only Russian launch beyond Earth orbit in the first decade of the 21st century. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
NPO Lavochkin developed a full-scale mockup of the light-weight Karat satellite bus developed by for a variety of applications. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
During 2008, developers proposed several competing configurations of the rocket launcher for the next-generation spacecraft. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
Heavy-lifting rockets, such as Angara-7, were under consideration during the 2000s for a possible lunar exploration role. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
During the first decade of the 21 century, Russian space agency mulled a replacement for the ISS. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
The 2009 Moscow air and space show, MAKS-2009, was held on August 18-23, 2009, in the town of Zhukovsky. The highlight of the event was the presentation of the Russian vision for manned space program in the next 30 years. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
During 2000s, Russia made plans to resume unmanned exploration of the Moon with Luna-Glob and Luna-Resurs projects. They could be followed by the Luna-Grunt dual mission and the construction of the lunar range on the surface of the Earth's natural satellite. Image credit: IKI