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Future Russian station remains in embryonic stage

In 2017, Russian space officials were still debating whether to embark on the full-scale development of a new habitable base in the Earth's orbit to succeed the International Space Station, ISS


Russian engineers planned to eventually replace the MLM/Nauka module onboard the Russian Orbital Station, ROS, with a second copy of the new-generation NEM module.

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RKK Energia, the nation's premier manned spacecraft contractor, reported that it had delivered the Technical Assignment for the future station to TsNIIMash, the main expert and certification center of the Russian space industry in October 2016. TsNIIMash was expected to review the specifications and submit them to the leadership at the Roskosmos State Corporation, which oversees the industry.

As in previous incarnations of the project, the design team at RKK Energia assumed that the new Russian outpost would begin operating in 2024, at the end of the ISS' mission. According to this strategy, at least three new modules -- the Nauka Multi-purpose Laboratory Module, MLM; the Science and Power Module, NEM; and the Prichal Node Module, UM, -- would be docked to the ISS first, before separating and starting their new life as the future Russian station.

The company's strategists stressed that sending the Russian modules to the ISS first would enable the new outpost to inherit the add-on hardware from the ISS delivered there with the MIM1 module in 2010. It included a scientific airlock and a foldable radiator intended for installation on the MLM/Nauka module, still awaiting its launch. While at the ISS, the NEM module would be upgraded to serve as the core of the new station.

Russian planners also believed that detaching the newest Russian modules from the ISS at the end of its mission would eliminate potential legal problems with the transfer of the European Robotic Arm, ERA, from the ISS to the future Russian outpost. ERA was designed to be launched into orbit strapped to the side of the MLM/Nauka module.

By the end of 2016, the latest assembly scenario for the new Russian station also envisioned the eventual replacement of the MLM/Nauka module with the second Science and Power Module or NEM-2. The NEM-2 module would increase the power supply onboard the station and provide a state-of-the-art laboratory. (Two identical NEM modules were originally proposed for the Russian segment of the ISS, but only one was initially funded.)

The transport operations to and from the future station were expected to be conducted with the help of existing Soyuz spacecraft and Progress cargo ships, complemented by cargo deliveries with the new-generation cargo ship.

In November 2016, Deputy Prime-Minister Dmitry Rogozin told the official Russian press that the decision to proceed with the future Russian station had been deferred until the spring of the following year. However, as late as May 2017, industry sources said that Roskosmos had been dragging its feet on its commitment to the post-ISS Russian station. Roskosmos was yet to issue the formal request for the development of the Technical Project by the industry, which would move the program forward. At the time, the station's design was essentially frozen at the level of a basic concept for the "orbital base," as the future Russian station had been known when the conceptual document was issued by RKK Energia at the beginning of 2015.

Kazakh involvement?

During negotiations between Russian and Kazakh governments on space cooperation in 2017, Kazakhstan apparently considered a possibility of joining the post-ISS Russian station. In July 27 interview with the Russian TASS news agency, Vice Minister of Defense and Aerospace Industry of Kazakhstan Marat Nurguzhin hinted that the republic could contribute a module to the new station. During the early development of the ISS, Ukraine and Kazakhstan studied options of contributing their own modules to the Russian segment, but these ideas had never materialized due to lack of funds. Most such schemes involved contracting the key hardware for the modules in Russia. In case of Kazakhstan, Roskosmos could supply the module as a part of its payments for the use of Baikonur Cosmodrome.


Potential components of the Russian High-Latitude or Post-ISS Space Station:

Approximate mass
Launch date*
Launch vehicle
Modules to be undocked from the ISS to form a new station around 2024:
Attitude control (?), laboratory
20 tons
Docking ports
4 tons
Power supply, laboratory
20 tons
Modules to be launched to ISS or directly to the post-ISS space station:
Inflatable habitat
8 tons
2024 (first half) (currently not funded)
8 tons
2024 (second half) (currently not funded)
Power Module, EM**
Power supply of no less than 18 kilowatts
6-8 tons
2025 (not funded)
Modified Node Module, UMM
Docking ports
4 tons
not funded
Module-Shipyard, MS
Assembly platform
8 tons
not funded
Man-tended laboratory
8 tons
not funded

*All launch dates and funding status as of April 2015;

**Proposed for the Federal Space Program 2016-2025 but not included.


Next chapter: ROS concept in 2020 (INSIDER CONTENT)


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Written and illustrated by Anatoly Zak; Last update: July 2, 2024

Editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: May 15, 2017

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The new Russian station could eventually include a pair of identical NEM modules. Copyright © 2017 Anatoly Zak

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