What does Russia plan to do in outer space?


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Russia can call 2006 the year of space exploration because Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, performed his trailblazing flight exactly 45 years ago on April 12, 1961. Moreover, the national space-rocket industry is marking its 60th anniversary this year. Russia also leads the way in satellite launches. And, finally, the most ambitious space program encompassing all spheres of space research, namely, manned missions and automatic-probe launches, will be implemented in the next decade.

At the same time, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) and top managers of the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, the leading national manufacturer of spacecraft and space station components, prompt one to inquire what this country plans to do in outer space.

It appears that one should not seriously debate the need to fly to the Moon and other planets because pragmatic attitudes will not help in this case. This reminds one of tearful women futilely begging our ancestors not to visit a neighboring island or to discover a new continent because nothing can stop man's quest for the unknown.

Agency general director Anatoly Perminov said on April 11 that Russia stipulated no special program for exploring and developing the Moon, because it had launched numerous spacecraft, lunar probes included, 30 years ago. Perminov added that it would be inexpedient to reinstate this program, but that Russia was ready to help Beijing launch its Taikonauts (cosmonauts) to the Moon in 2017. "Moreover, NASA has officially invited the space agency to take part in implementing U.S. space plans," said Perminov.

Still one has some misgivings about these interesting statements.

First, the achievements of the 1970s are just a tiny fraction of what modern scientists want to learn about the Moon. Second, the seemingly ambitious and effective Chinese space program is still a far cry from Soviet space achievements of that period. Consequently, Russia's full-fledged involvement in China's lunar program is an obvious step backward.

For its part, the United States has so far failed to suggest a single coherent program of inter-planetary flights. Moreover, the NASA management recently admitted that it still lacked lunar spacecraft.

Russian cosmonauts therefore have no alternative but to continue flying aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in the long-term perspective.

In mid-April, the Energia management, which has completely different plans, unveiled a concept of the national manned space-flight program for the next 25 years.

This document states expressly that the initial stage of the manned lunar program will involve Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz-FG and Proton launch vehicles and DM-type boosters. Energia officials said that the ISS' Russian segment should be used to assemble an inter-orbital space complex bound for the Moon, and that this approach would make it possible to launch the first lunar expeditions in the near future.

There are plans to develop a reusable lunar transport system comprising manned spacecraft on the basis of the advanced Kliper shuttle and inter-orbital space tugs with liquid-propellant rocket engines during the lunar program's second stage. The new transport system will link the ISS and a projected lunar orbital station. It is intended to use tugs with electric-rocket engines and large-size solar batteries for transporting bulky consignments. Plans are also in place to assemble a permanent lunar orbital station with a reusable lunar ascent and descent module during the second stage.

The program's third stage stipulates the creation of a permanent lunar industrial base for developing the Earth's satellite.

The Martian program is closely linked with the lunar program.

Energia CEO Nikolai Sevastyanov said that corporate specialists were using some technologies, which had been streamlined in the last few decades, such as electric rocket engines now being installed on communications satellites, to develop the Martian complex. He also said that the design of large solar batteries had been upgraded aboard the Mir orbital station.

Sevastyanov stressed that the new space complex featuring substantial xenon-fuel reserves would fly manned missions to the Mars.

However, he said that new elements, such as a Martian ascent and descent module, had to be developed, and that a three-stage program for exploring the Mars was set up. The entire space complex will be tested during the first stage stipulating a lunar mission. The second stage envisions a manned flight to the Mars but no landing on the Red Planet's surface, while another crew will land on the Mars during the third stage. Soyuz-FG and Proton launch vehicles will orbit this complex's elements until 2010, whereas revamped Soyuz-2 and new Angara rockets will replace them after 2010.

Soyuz taxis and Progress cargo craft will help assemble the new space complex until 2015; and the Kliper reusable spacecraft will be commissioned after 2015.

Energia plans to launch the first expedition to the Red Planet in 2020-2030.

Russia's place in global space exploration will be clarified if the space agency approves this program.

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