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Lagrange

Lagrange


Launchers

Launcher development in 2010s


Radioastron

Sodruzhestvo


STK

TsSKB Progress' super-heavy launchers


Energia-5K

Energia-5K


MAKS-2013

MAKS 2013 air show


sep

Soyuz MS



ShM

Russian airlock for the international outpost near the Moon


 

Russian human space flight in 2010s

A broad look at strategies and directions of the Russian manned space program from 2010 to 2020.

2013

The Russian strategy in manned space flight and the status of its major components as of 2013. (Clickable)


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Continuing a tradition started in 2009, the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, used a biannual Moscow air and space show, MAKS-2013, in August, to present a broad outline of its strategy for human space exploration. This time, a roadmap extending three decades into the future appeared in the form of an oversized poster strung like a sail above a crew module of the next-generation spacecraft. It illustrated an already familiar scenario of expanding human exploration from the International Space Station, ISS, to a habitable outpost at one of the Lagrangian points near the Moon. The itinerary would then split into two possible routes: one leading to the Moon and followed by visits to asteroids at the turn of the 2030s and another -- heading to the same destinations but in a reverse order. Both routes would ultimately lead to Mars around 2040.

Despite this two-option concept having been on the table since at least 2011, Russia and its key partners in manned space flight failed to single out a joint project. In August 2013, Russian officials said that NASA had been reluctant to lead a big international space venture and Roskosmos could only hope to reach an agreement on any strategy in 2014.

According to US officials, NASA had many reservations about getting into another complex and costly project with Russia. In addition to a rocky ride during the development of the ISS in the past two decades, the overall atmosphere of US-Russian relations was now clouded with deep divisions over major geopolitical issues, such as Syria and Iran. As a result, both sides were chartering "going alone" strategies in manned space flight, while continuing snail-pace consultations on a potential joint program within the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, ISECG. This group was officially established in 2007 and by 2013 involved 14 space agencies.

Items on the menu

At MAKS-2013, Roskosmos presented a "wish list" of spacecraft and hardware to achieve its ambitious goals in space. The most immediate items on the agenda included three new modules designed to dramatically expand the Russian segment of the ISS. As of 2013, the 20-ton Multi-purpose Laboratory Module, MLM, was scheduled for launch in 2014, followed by the Node Module, UM, within a year. The Node Module could also serve as the basis for a large airlock studied by the agency's key manned space flight contractor -- RKK Energia.

The development of the first in the pair of planned Science and Power Modules, NEM-1, had also started. Sporting a drastically new architecture, NEM-1 would house a state-of-the-art science lab and provide the Russian segment with an independent source of power. That feature could become critical if Roskosmos was ever to fulfill its promise to split the Russian segment from the rest of the ISS at the end of the station's service life in 2022-2028. In 2013, Russian space officials still maintained that the newest modules of the Russian segment could eventually become the nucleus of the next-generation outpost in the Earth orbit within the OPSEK project, later renamed the Russian Orbital Station, ROS.

Finally, RKK Energia was also studying an experimental inflatable module, which if funded, could also be added to the Russian ISS segment or to a future space station.

Going to Lagrange?

By the beginning of 2012, a man-tended platform at a Lagrange point was endorsed by the head of the Russian space agency as a stepping stone to the Moon. To reach both destinations, Russia would have to develop a manned transport spacecraft capable of flying beyond the Earth orbit. As a result, in the spring of 2012, Roskosmos urgently ordered RKK Energia -- to re-tailor its all-but-ready design of the next-generation spacecraft, PTK NP, for deep-space missions.

In addition, a super-heavy launch vehicle with a payload of 70 tons would be required for sending PTK NP into deep space. During 2012 and 2013, the Russian space industry made several proposals for such a rocket within Sodruzhestvo, Energia-5K and STK projects, and Roskosmos promised to start a formal competition to choose a winning architecture for the giant rocket within months.

To build a launcher with a payload of 80-tons to low Earth's orbit by 2028 would require 700 billion rubles with a possible 30 percent increase based on previous experience with programs of this scale. The production plant in Vostochny would probably be required as well.

Mars receding

During 2010s, prospects for human mission to Mars, that had been 20 years away for much of the Space Age, now receded ever farther. In August 2011, Nikolai Panichkin, a deputy head of TsNIIMash research institute, told journalists that planners from his organization, traditionally responsible for Russia's long-term planning in space, had scheduled an expedition to Mars in 2040 or 2045, thus pushing this milestone as far as 34 years away. At the same time, a lunar landing was not expected before 2030. Still, Russian officials at RKK Energia insisted that Mars had remained the ultimate goal of the Russian space program in the next half a century.

In April 2013, the head of Roskosmos Vladimir Popovkin told the official newspaper of the Russian Duma (parliament) that the agency's latest conceptual designs envisioned assembling a 450-ton Mars-bound expeditionary complex out of four or five components with a mass ranging from 90 to 112 tons and delivered to the low Earth orbit by future super-heavy launchers. In addition to record-breaking payload capabilities, these powerful rockets could be propelled by winged first-stage boosters, which would fly back to Earth and land on a runway like an aircraft. At the MAKS-2013 air show, Russia's prime aviation research center, TsAGI, demonstrated two scaled prototypes of fly-back boosters, which had already gone through the rigors of wind tunnel testing.

As an even more significant step toward making the mission to Mars possible, Moscow-based Keldysh research center claimed major progress at MAKS-2013 in the development of a nuclear-powered and electrically propelled space tug. The project, first approved by then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009, would revolutionize space travel, enabling long-haul ferry flights around the Solar System for very large payloads, including habitable modules.

Russian cooperation with its ISS partners

roadmap

On January 28, 2014, speaking at the Korolev Memorial Symposium in Moscow, the head of Roskosmos Oleg Ostapenko energetically reconfirmed the strong Russian interest in cooperation with NASA on manned missions to asteroids, as well as expeditions to the Moon and to Mars. "I am confident that we can resolve all the challenges (of such missions) at much larger scale than other countries and I don't have a slightest doubt about it," Ostapenko said, "What's important is to concentrate our efforts correctly."

It was unclear, whether this was a message directed at NASA or at the Russian government or at both. In any case, this optimism looked completely unfounded just weeks later in the wake of Russian Anschluss of Crimea, followed by a bloody conflict in Ukraine.

Despite the politics, in November 2014, the heads of agencies involved in the ISS program agreed to begin a joint study of a possible cooperative project which would lead human space missions into deep space. The effort centered on a NASA-led man-tended platform in the cis-lunar space, which could be used as a "proving ground" for US missions to Mars and as a way station for the exploration of the Moon by other partners.

During 2016, the international team made significant progress in formulating the final architecture and the assembly schedule of the cis-lunar outpost, which could lead to full-scale development in 2017 or 2018. However, unlike all other partners, Roskosmos remained uncommitted about its contribution into the program besides a small airlock module and provisional flights of the PTK/Federatsiya spacecraft beginning in 2027.

The agency's own strategic resarch arm, TsNIIMash, concluded that a direct flight to the Moon would be a simpler, cheaper option than building a cooperative cis-lunar platform. That is despite the fact that Russia's own independent efforts to go beyond low Earth orbit has been hitting one obstacle after the other in the mid-2010s. The Russian next-generation spacecraft capable of deep-space missions still remained largely on paper with its first launch delayed from 2018 to 2023 or 2024, at the earliest.

Also in 2016, after a year-long study, the six-launch lunar expedition scenario based on the Angara-5V rocket was deemed to be unworkable, while the funding for the super-heavy launcher, which could could dispatch the lunar expedition in a single shot, was not expected to come around until the second half of 2020s. Whether the overall political situation played any role Roskosmos' reluctance to cooperate with NASA remained unclear.

Downsizing and delaying the program during mid-2010s

In December 2014, a group of officials lead by Yuri Koptev from the United Rocket and Space Corporation, ORKK, began another review of the manned space efforts, including the proposals for a super-heavy rocket. The review has continued within the Scientific and Technical Council, NTS, at Roskosmos after restructuring of the agency into the State Corporation in January 2015. (744)

Critics noted that the manned program expenditure exceeded 50 percent of the agency's budget. By taking obligations on the manned space flight, everything else had to be of a secondary importance, critics charged.

As of 2016, the Moon still remained the ultimate goal of the Russian space program. However, according to industry sources, there were serious doubts about Roskosmos' ability to fund both the manned lunar program and the development of the Russian orbital station to succeed the ISS. As of the end of 2016, the lunar exploration effort still retained its highest priority status as mandated by the Kremlin in 2013 during the high time for oil prices.

 

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An overview of Russia's major research and development projects in manned spacecraft during 2010s:

Project
Development start
Original launch date
Current launch date
Cost
Status, notes
MIM1
2006 (?)
2010
2010
-
Launched, operational
MLM
1999
2007
2017
-
In development; (376) delayed to 2014
Node Module (UM)
2009
2013
2018
-
In development
NEM-1 (575GK)
2009
2014
2019
-
Full-scale development started in 2012 (376)
NEM-2
2010
2015
?
-
Concept evaluation (376)
OKA-T-MKS (52KS)
2006
2012-2015 (378)
R2.82 billion
Preliminary development (cost for 2006-2014)
Vozvrat MKA
2009
2016
-
R860 million
(beginning in 2009(?)
PTK NP
2009
2015
2021
-
In development
TGKS (Parom)
?
2009
2015
-
Preliminary development (376)
OPSEK/VShOS/ROS
?
2020
2024
-
Concept evaluation (376)
OPSEK core module
2015
2020
-
-
Concept evaluation (376)
NEM-1 heavy
2024
2029
-
-
Concept evaluation (376)
NEM-2 heavy
2025
2030
-
-
Concept evaluation (376)
Lunar base
2016
2025
2030
$50 billion (377)
Concept evaluation (376)
Expedition to Mars
2013
2021
-
-
Concept evaluation (376)
Soyuz MS (upgrade program)
2010
2011-2012
-
In flight testing
New-generation cargo ship, TGK PG
-
-
-
-
-
Airlock for the international cis-lunar platform
-
-
-
-
-

 

Pros and cons of possible goals and destinations in manned space flight:

Goal or destination
Pros
Cons
Maintaining the International Space Station
Enables largely flat budgets
Can hardly be justified with onboard science; faces end of service life by mid-2020s
Building a man-tended platform in the Earth orbit
Enables to cut budget (?)
Dead-end strategy which can hardly be justified with onboard science
Missions to asteroids
Flexible and potentially affordable (?) goal, providing experience for further manned missions
Can be accomplished more effectively with unmanned spacecraft
Lunar Orbital Station
Might be achievable with projected budgets and international participation
Makes little sense without a lunar exploration program to follow
A men-tended platform at the lunar Lagrange point
Might be achievable with projected budgets and international participation
Makes little sense without a lunar exploration program to follow
Lunar base
An ambitious, long-term goal
Might be unaffordable under current budgets and without a broad international agreement to share costs
Expedition to Mars
An ambitious, long-term goal
Unaffordable under current budget and without a broad international agreement to share costs

 

Estimated annual funding required for an ambitious cooperative manned project (as of beginning of 2012):

Contributor
Percentage
Amount
USA (NASA)
37 percent
$1.5 billion
Russia (Roskosmos)
22 percent
$0.9 billion
Europe (ESA)
16 percent
$0.6 billion
Japan (JAXA)
10 percent
$0.4 billion
Canada (CSA)
5 percent
$0.2 billion
Others (possibly Brazil, India, South Korea)
10 percent
$0.4 billion
Total
100 percent
$4.0 billion

Next chapter: Russian policy in launch vehicle development during 2010s

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Story, illustrations and photography by Anatoly Zak; Last update: February 10, 2017

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Edits: October 1, 2013; November 10, 2016

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Strategy

By 2011, NASA and its partners in the International Space Station program formulated several scenarios for the future of manned space flight. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA


Timeline

A timeline of manned space program unveiled at MAKS-2011 air show pushed possible expedition to Mars to 2040s. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak


Roadmap

All roads lead to Mars... in 2040, originating at Lagrange points as early as 2022, according to a poster strung at the Roskosmos pavilion at the MAKS-2013 air and space show. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak


Putin

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (left) and Roskosmos head Igor Komarov (center) demonstrate President Putin scale models of the Angara-5 rocket and the descent module of the next-generation manned spacecraft, PTK NP, on April 13, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian government


docking

In 2015, joint groups from RKK Energia and Boeing formulated several concepts of a man-tended habitable platform in the lunar orbit. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2016 Anatoly Zak


mpp

Circa 2015 concept of a near-lunar station assembled of Russian-built modules delivered as piggyback payloads on NASA's Orion/SLS system. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2016 Anatoly Zak


OPSEK

A Russian concept of the orbiting assembly shop to replace the ISS after 2020 could serve as the foundation for an international program of deep space exploration. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


oka

Likely configurations for a fully assembled, low-cost successor to the ISS proposed by the Russian space industry in 2014. The facility includes the MLM module (top), a Node Module (center), an Inflatable Habitat (left), a Soyuz spacecraft (background); Docking and Airlock Compartment (right) and the Oka-T free-flying laboratory (bottom). Copyright © 2014 Anatoly Zak

 

TEM

As the first significant step toward achieving the mission to Mars, the Russian government approved the development of a nuclear-powered, electrically propelled space tug at the turn of 2010s. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak


MRKN

A scale model of a fly-back booster that was tested in wind tunnels of the TsAGI research institute in Zhukovsky, near Moscow. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak


lander

A lunar lander conceptualized during 2015 to be compatible with the Angara-5V rocket. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2016 Anatoly Zak


 

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