The Future Of Russia’s Manned Space Craft
Sunday, January 20th, 2013
by AJ Plunkett
After some fits and starts — not uncommon in the space industry — RSC Energia recently announced completion of design work on the protype of a new crew transport that could take Russia to the moon and beyond.
At least that’s the hope of Russia’s Federal Space Agency, which is moving ahead with plans to double the country’s overall space industrial production by 2020, with an eye on grabbing more of the space technology and space services markets.
Testing Begins Sooner Than Later
Unlike the one-use-only Soyuz spacecraft — currently the only way to get personnel to and from the International Space Station — the new crew ship is expected to be at least partially reusable and have an expandable payload. The transport could take six crew members on one trip, and three crew members with more cargo space the next.
Vitaly Lopota, Energia’s president, said completion of the technical design of the new manned spacecraft, sometimes referred to as the Prospective Piloted Transport System (PPTS), means the company could begin flight tests as early as 2017.
RSC Energia won the contract for the new spacecraft in 2009, and it was initially hoped that the transport might begin test flights by 2015. Later that date was shifted to 2018, but now 2017.
From Millions To Billions
The RT News Channel reports that the cost of the project so far has been $25 million (barely spare change for many space projects these days). However, the final costs could run more toward the billions, says RT.com.
That amount is more in line with Russia’s plans to boost its space industry capabilities. Abilities that include uniting several enterprises into five-to-seven major holdings, with the aim of attracting private investors, according to RIA Novosti. Including private investment, which hasn’t been lined up yet, that effort could cost upwards of 2.1 trillion rubles, or $69 billion.
Beyond Space Craft
The plan unveiled by Russia’s space agency late last year also includes, according to RIA Novosti, creation of a new launch vehicle, development of a new space port in the Russian Far East, and improvements to the Glosnass satellite navigation system.
In the meantime, work goes forward on development of the new crew transport. Initial models, says RT.com, may only be able to reach an orbit similar to the Soyuz spacecraft, but future models are expected to be capable of reaching the Moon, if not Mars.
It was barely eight months ago when Roscosmos’ space chief Vladimir Popovkin said that Russia hopes to establish permanent bases on the moon.
While the United States has talked about putting a permanent outpost in orbit around the moon, setting human foot back on this natural Earth satellite would be a feat unmet since the last Apollo moon mission.
If It Seems Like All Talk, Keep This In Mind…
RSC Energia, also known by its full name, S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, just marked the 106th anniversary of the birth of its patriarch, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev.
Korolev, born Jan. 12, 1907, was chief designer of Russia’s legendary Special Design Bureau No. 1. He was also the man who directed the development of Russia’s first long-range ballistic missiles, artificial satellites, manned spacecraft, and unmanned interplanetary probes.
In Korolev’s time, talk of a Sputnik or Gemini, an Apollo or Soyuz — or of an Earth-orbiting International Space Station — would have smacked of science fiction. Now it’s just science.
May the talks continue.
AJ Plunkett is a freelance writer in Virginia with experience in covering defense and aerospace industries, as well as health care issues. AJ blogs via Contently.com