MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)
By developing new-generation spacecraft for resupplying the International Space Station (ISS), the United States, Russia and the European Union have launched another space race.
At first glance, the issue seems to be the following: Will U.S. space shuttles resume flights to the ISS this year? Moscow is optimistic on this score. "We hope that space shuttles will fly because the multinational project will otherwise have to be revised," Anatoly Perminov, chief of the Federal Space Agency, said in mid-May.
NASA is preparing to launch the Discovery shuttle between July 13 and 31. Moreover, American experts understand that U.S. space presence could end once the shuttles are grounded in 2010, as no astronauts would then work on the ISS, which could be controlled by Russia and its junior partner, the EU. Therefore, Michael Griffin, the new NASA administrator, decided to accelerate the development of a new transport system to facilitate U.S. and international manned space missions.
Similar Russian-EU plans are no less promising. Moscow and Brussels are developing the Kliper reusable manned spacecraft, though Russia's Energia Rocket and Space Corporation alone is financing the project.
Alan Thirkettle, the head of the development department with the European Space Agency's human space flight directorate, believes that EU-Russia cooperation will enable Europe to become relatively independent in manned space flights and not reliant on America, which often refuses to launch ESA astronauts.
Daniel Sacotte, the director of human space flight, micro-gravity and exploration programs at the ESA, says France, Germany and Italy will also finance the Kliper program, thereby enabling 14 ESA astronauts to make it into space.
At the same time, Russia will soon phase out its famous Progress transports, which have flown re-supply missions since 1978. Nikolai Bryukhanov, Energia's deputy general designer, said in mid-May that the Federal Space Agency had received a design for a new space system named Parom (Ferry). According to him, the system's operation principle is completely different to that used by Progress. A launch vehicle first places a Parom reusable inter-orbit "tug" into a 200km orbit. As this spacecraft will not carry any consignments, other rockets will orbit payload containers that will dock with Parom. The tug will then deliver them to the ISS or another orbiter.
"Any Russian or foreign launch vehicle can orbit such containers," Bryukhanov said. The size of the container and its shape depend on payload characteristics. "This can be an airtight instrument module or a fuel tanker," the deputy general designer continued. "Moreover, a depressurized platform featuring large scientific equipment and auxiliary systems, i.e., solar batteries that cannot be stored inside the airtight module, will serve as a container."
Parom will make it much easier to assemble huge orbital structures, such as space-station modules or inter-planetary spacecraft. Given that Russia and the U.S. are now contemplating long-range space flights, this is particularly important.
Indeed, perhaps the most interesting point of the crafts is that the Kliper and Parom will form a single reusable space system for exploring circum-terrestrial and deep space.