Is golden age of Russian space science still ahead?


MOSCOW. (Lev Zeleny, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), and Director of the RAS Institute of Space Research, for RIA Novosti)

Despite the troubled times in the 1990s, Russia is still a great space power. It is enough to mention that it is the leader in the number of space launches, accounting for 40% of the world's carrier missile launches in the 2001-2005 period. Regrettably, the majority of them were commercial launches of foreign space vehicles, as well as Soyuz and Progress spaceships for supporting the International Space Station.

In the last 15 years, Russia has put into orbit only three research satellites. In the past, space researchers used to send two or more vehicles into space every year. They were put into near-earth orbits, or sent to the Moon, Mars, and Venus. The VEGA project (Venus-Halley's comet) was the culmination of research.

Upon the completion of the Venus part of the mission, when for the first time experiments in its atmosphere were conducted with balloons, the Vega-1 and Vega-2 space vehicles were sent to Halley's comet, and went through its coma one by one. They received the images of the nucleus and the dust of the coma, measured its plasma, dust flows, and the composition of its dust and gas components. Today, Russian scientists are mainly focusing on space plasma and solar-terrestrial relationships, using domestic Interball and Coronas-F spacecraft.

The launch of the automatic station Mars-96 in November 1997 was frustrated by the failure of its carrier's upper stage. Since this black day in the history of Russian planetary studies, Russian scientists have been taking a modest part in the studies of Mars and Venus. They are using excellent spacecraft - Marx-Express, Venus-Express, and Mars-Odyssey - on board of European and American spaceships. As for other planets of the solar system, they had to forget about them altogether.

The implementation of the Relikt, Astron, Kvant, and Granat projects in the late 1980s-1990s allowed Russia to be more or less on the same level of astrophysical research with Western countries. But it failed to carry out a series of Spektr projects, which had been planned in the Soviet times to study virtually the entire range of electromagnetic radiation. If this program had been implemented in the 1990s as scheduled, Russian science would have been ahead of the world in the field of extra atmospheric astronomy. The situation is somewhat improved by the European Integral Space Observatory, placed into orbit by a Russian carrier, which entitles Russian researchers to 27% of its monitoring time.

The RIM-PAMELA (RIM is the acronym for the Russian-Italian Mission) project is another example of this form of international cooperation, involving also researchers from Germany, Sweden, and the United States. The project deals with fundamental cosmology problems, such as the nature of the dark matter, generation and dissemination of galactic space rays, solar processes and space rays, and high energy particles in the earth's magnetosphere. Research is being conducted by the Pamela precision magnetic spectrometer, a fruit of Russian-Italian cooperation, which is installed on board of the Russian Resurs DK1 E0 (earth observation) satellite.

Unfortunately, these are single examples of Russian participation in recent space experiments. Many projects, some of them unique, were not carried out because new Russia had slashed the funding for space research.

Today, the situation is changing for the better in many respects. By 2010-2012 Russia is expected to have from eight to ten space vehicles. Russian researchers are planning to launch in 2007 the RadioAstron observatory with powerful space information ability, and a 12-meter antenna with a deployable parabolic reflector. A global network of ground-based facilities will support the performance of the space-based telescope. In resolution capacity, these ground-space systems or interferometers have the power of a radio telescope with an antenna diameter, which is equal to the distance between ground and space hardware. At an altitude of 350,000 km, the resolution capacity of the RadioAstron interferometer will equal hundreds of thousands' fractions of an angle second.

This orbit is very suitable for an almost permanent monitoring of interplanetary parameters, such as solar wind plasma, magnetic field, and energy particle flows, at huge distances from the Earth. Importantly, it has a very high time resolution, which is important for space weather forecasting. In this context, scientists from the Institute of Space Research have suggested that the RadioAstron project (of which the Astronomical Center of the RAS Physical Institute is in charge) should be supplemented with the Plasma-F magneto plasma experiment.

In 2010, Russia is planning to put into high-elliptical orbit its Spektr-UF extra-atmospheric observatory to monitor the electromagnetic spectrum in the ultraviolet range. The Hubble space telescope is considered to be the most powerful and expensive (with a price tag of six billion dollars) research instrument in this field. But it works in near-earth orbit, thus losing about 50% of the observation time. The Russian telescope will be placed into a very outstretched orbit with the apogee of 300,000 km, or even better, in the area of the libration point of the Sun-Earth system, which is about 1.5 million km from our planet. Location of the observatory at this point will reduce terrestrial and lunar influence to the minimum. The Russian telescope will be able to receive the images of comparable quality spectrums, which are 20 times weaker than those observed by the Hubble.

Roskosmos (Russian Space Agency) and its European counterpart have decided to coordinate their space programs for X-ray space studies. With this aim in view, the Spektr-Rentgen-Gamma project was transformed into the Spectrum-RG/eRosita/Lobster program. They are considering putting the observatory into an ideal equatorial orbit (in terms of minimal background radiation) at an altitude of 580-600 km, that is, below the Earth's radiation belt with a zero angle achieved by the launch from the space center in Kourou in French Guiana by the Russian Soyuz-2 booster.

The Phobos-Ground mission has received priority in planetary studies. It is one of the world's biggest recent projects with multiple objectives. Under the project, a spacecraft will fly to Mars, land on its Phobos satellite, take a probe of the ground, and return it to Earth. A long-life station will remain on Mars for automatic monitoring of its climate, and the near-Mars space. The launch is scheduled for 2009.

Experience accumulated in the implementation of this project will make it possible to go over to the next stage of planetary studies - delivery of Martian ground to Earth. In addition, there are plans to deploy a number of small research stations on the surface of Mars in 2009-2011.

Researchers are discussing such planetary projects as the construction of a module for deployment on Mercury, and development of a long-life Venus-9 surface station.

The Russian federal space program for 2006-2015 provides for the Luna-Glob project initiated by the RAS GEOHI geochemistry institute after a more than 30 year long break in space lunar research. The main aim of the mission is to study the internal structure of the Moon, find signs of water ice in the cold trap on the lunar pole, and establish whether the Moon has a nucleus, and of what size.

The nearest project in space plasma physics and solar-terrestrial relationships is the Coronas-Photon magnetosphere mission. Its objective is to continue monitoring the processes on the Sun, and its activities. In the past, this task was carried out by the Coronas-I and Coronas-F spacecraft. All three are part of the long-term program of comprehensive orbital near-earth observation of solar activities (CORONAS), which has been implemented since 1994. The aim of the mission is to study the structure of the Sun, and its atmosphere, the nature and mechanisms of solar activities, such as the origin and acceleration of the solar wind, which has a direct influence on the Earth and near-Earth space; mechanisms of transforming different types of solar energy within the magnetosphere and ionosphere, and their influence on terrestrial processes.

Apart from solar studies, one of the major elements of space weather forecasting is continuous monitoring of the solar wind on its journey from the Sun to the Earth. Russian researchers are developing this multi-level monitoring system.

Researchers will conduct observations in the low orbit ionosphere with the help of the Chibis micro satellites designed by the Institute of Space Studies. They will be put into orbit from the International Space Station. Resonans space vehicles will do the monitoring in the internal magnetosphere and the radiation belts. They are scheduled for launch in 2012 as the key element of the would-be system. For the first time ever, they will allow scientists to study magnetospheric cyclotron resonance masers, which play a major role in the magnetosphere of the Earth and other planets with a magnetic field. Maser mechanisms determine a whole series of solar and stellar processes. But the terrestrial magnetosphere is not very far from us, and this is why researchers can take detailed measurements of it, and then extrapolate the results of studies to remote astrophysical objects.

It is important to study magnetospheric masers because they regulate the composition of the terrestrial radiation belts, and researchers will obtain information on the number of energy particles in the belts, forecast their status, and study the dynamics of perturbation.

In order to continue Plasma-F project, Russian researchers are planning to deploy, at the top of Radioastron (mentioned earlier) satellite system for forecasting solar activities and their aftermath, a group of Klipper micro satellites with a solar sail at a distance of three to four million kilometers from the Earth. The sail will make it possible to stabilize the satellites in a definite point in space, or move them closer to the Sun by handling the reflecting sail.

Finally, there is a solar research project entitled Intergeliozond. Researchers are planning to send a spacecraft to the Sun, using the Venus's gravitational slingshot, and put it into an orbit which would be 42 million km away from the Sun (60 solar radiuses). Subsequent gravitational maneuvers may lower the orbit to 21 million km, and then further to 10-12 solar radiuses. Low power engines can change the angle of the orbit in a way that will allow scientists to see the Sun's polar zones, which are invisible from the Earth.

Other promising Russian projects - a small solar Strannik spacecraft for precision measurements in those fields of the magnetosphere which are crucial for the formation of space weather (it should become part of the international space system in 2014-2020), and the polar-ecliptical probe for total observation of the Sun with the same purpose - are still in the cradle stage. It is not yet possible to move them into the designing stage for shortage of funding, among other reasons.

The Russian space budget for 2005 was one third bigger than in 2004. In 2006, it should grow by another quarter, and is expected to continue going up every year. Nevertheless, these allocations are too small to extricate Russian space research from the deplorable condition of the last 10 to 15 years. It would be great to be able to launch the Resonans spacecraft in 2009-2010 instead of 2012, but financial restrictions make it wishful thinking.

As in all previous years, half of the funds earmarked for space will be spent on the International Space Station (ISS), where Russia was acting as a space taxi until recently. All money is channeled into its functioning and upgrading. By the time its construction is completed, it will be almost as old as the Mir before it was sunk with all the ensuing consequences.

Although the Federal Space Program for 2006-2015 is aimed at bringing closer the interests of fundamental research and piloted space flights, they will still be locked in fierce competition, and in different weight categories.

In the United States, the space program consists of Exploration and Research. Exploration deals with discovering new areas, which also includes certain research, whereas Research proper means strictly research in the interests of fundamental science. The first section has a clear political meaning, and receives much more money than the second one. This is probably how it should be. The main point is that the two budgets do not get mixed, and it is clear within a certain balance how much was spent on pure research.

There is no such division in Russia. Maybe, all the setbacks of domestic space research stem from the approach to the funding of fundamental science on the national scale as a whole, which barely allows it to float between life and death.

To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала