The Bear's stars shine brighter

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As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close the nation that sent the first man into space is planning a new crewed spacecraft for lunar and International Space Station missions, all in the wake of a tumultuous period of decline, stagnation and commercial rebirth.

Before 2005 the situation had been grim for the Russian space programme. The two government five-year plans that ran from 1991 to 2000 had little funding, and the 2001-5 plan saw the industry struggle with inadequate cashflow, achieving just 40% of its objectives and with only 73% of the necessary financing provided. In 2005 the Russian Federal Space Agency announced its first ever Rb305 billion ($9.77 billion) 10-year plan for 2006 to 2015.

While it set out Moon, Mars and Venus missions and human spaceflight ambitions, it was largely about restoring and enhancing Russia's space-based infrastructure. This infrastructure is meteorological, Earth observation and telecommunication networks of spacecraft and ground stations.

And then, perhaps with an eye to the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik in October 2007, Russian Federal Space Agency head Anatoly Perminov announced on 31 August of that year a 30-year vision with greater ambition. This vision includes Moon bases and a manned Mars mission in the 2035 timeframe.

Reaching out to 2040, some of the vision's goals - a new man-rated rocket, a new launch site and manned spacecraft are to be achieved before the end of the next decade.

The Russian plans are also international in scope as the country is involved with the global exploration strategy (GES). Published in May 2007, the GES is a voluntary framework for co-ordination. It allows governments to opt into joint missions, share scientific data and participate in a forum, called the international co-ordination mechanism.

Through the framework, mission communications and control, life support and manned spacecraft docking systems could be agreed to enable interoperability. And the forum could help resolve issues of future property rights on the Moon and Mars and enable agreement on the protection of sites of interest.

And since its publication, more detail has emerged about Russia's new manned spaceflight ambitions. The new man-rated rocket is the Rus-M and the crewed spacecraft is the Advanced Crew Vehicle (ACV). The launch site is the Vostochny cosmodrome, being built in the far eastern Amur region of Russia.

Speaking at the Third European Conference for Aerospace Sciences in July the Russian Federal Space Agency's director of launchers Victor Remishevsky confirmed that the Rus-M will use the Energomash RD-180 kerosene and oxygen engine for its first stage and the Chemical Automatics Design Bureau RD-0146, hydrogen/oxygen engine for its upper stage.

Remishevsky says that the ACV booster is called Rus-M because there was a previous rocket proposal called Rus. It was to be an upgrade of the Samara Space Center Soyuz with the ability to place 18,000kg (39,600lb) into low Earth orbit. The decision to increase the payload capacity to 23,000kg led to the new version being called Rus-M.

According to Remishevsky, the work at Vostochny is under way and the agency has said that designs for ACV will be officially released next year. But a concept animation on its website shows a bullet-shaped capsule and designs exhibited by ACV prime contractor Energia Rocket and Space in 2007 were of a traditional capsule type. Russia plans to have an ACV flying from the middle of the next decade to serve the ISS for crew and cargo transport. It could also be used to provide revenue-generating flights for US astronauts.

With NASA's Space Shuttle due to be retired next year, Russia's existing Soyuz spacecraft is the only method of crew transport and in May the arrival of a second Soyuz TMA at the station increased the ISS complement to six.

In 2007 Perminov's agency signed a contract with NASA worth $719 million for ISS transport services up to 2011 and in June this year NASA signed another for $306 million for flights in 2012 and 2013.

NASA's plans for its proposed four-crew Orion crew exploration vehicle to carry astronauts to the ISS in 2016 are under review, so the ACV could continue to provide this commercial transport service.

While the ISS partner space agencies had agreed to a notional retirement date of 2016 for the station, Russia is now a vocal supporter for extending the ISS to 2020. The Russian agency sees the station as a technological development platform for spacecraft systems that will enable longer-term exploration to the Moon and Mars.

cosmodrome
© Russian Federal Space Agency / Flightglobal 

 Above: The planned Vostochny launch pad and the Rus-M rocket
NASA's ongoing review of Orion and the rest of its human spaceflight efforts could also endorse a 2020 extension when it reports this week to new NASA administrator Charles Bolden and President Barack Obama's Office of Science and Technology Policy. The European Space Agency already agrees with use of the ISS beyond 2016.

Its director general Jean-Jacques Dordain has also said that the ISS partners need to start asking whether China, India and South Korea should join this prolonged project.

The ISS began as President Ronald Reagan's space station Freedom project, a strictly western European, Japanese and US effort. After numerous redesigns as costs escalated in the 1990s, Russian president Boris Yeltsin decided to take Russia into the station programme and so it was renamed the International Space Station.

Russia is well placed to co-operate in an expanded international team with China, India and South Korea. Russian industry is assisting the Koreans with its first satellite launching rocket, the Korea Space Launch Vehicle, and Russia helped China in the development of its own manned space programme. Perminov has confirmed that his agency has had discussions with India about helping that country with its proposed human spaceflight project.

Whichever nation joins the ISS, and for however much longer the station operates, under Russian exploration plans low Earth orbit space stations have a long-term role.

Perminov told the NASA human spaceflight review's first public meeting on 17 June that "by the end of the ISS lifecycle [we plan] to develop and prepare for operation the first elements of the orbital assembly experimental piloted space complex that will become a basis for engineering development for future human missions to Mars beyond 2030".

Through a working group called Spaceships, a tri-lateral committee including ESA and the European Commission, Russia is also supporting the idea of a post-2020 orbital shipyard for assembling spacecraft for missions beyond low Earth orbit.

Global strategies and intra-European co-operation are setting the backdrop to Russian exploration plans that will also see more bilateral work with the USA. The Russians are to participate in a commission with NASA's Bolden.

Perminov will be meeting Bolden at a time when the administrator is likely to be proposing his forward plan for President Obama and Congress's approval following the human spaceflight review.

The decisions that Obama's government makes could lead to Russia being a primary beneficiary, with an increased need for NASA to purchase crew transport.

For a nation whose space industry struggled so much 10 years ago, the next decade will see it prosper from its international co-operation, delivering partnerships that could see a Russian boot on the Moon by 2030.