January 15, 2013
Russia Plans Moon Mission For 2015, New Space Rocket By 2020
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) has been busy outlining its space plans for the next several years. Included is a mission to the moon in 2015 and a replacement of its Soyuz rocket by 2020.
The 2015 moon mission would see a launch from a new facility (Vostochny Cosmodrome) in the country´s Far East, according to Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos. Popovkin told Russian news officials Tuesday that the rocket booster for the moon mission would deliver a 1,100-pound lunar lander that would search for water and take soil samples.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has vowed to invest $1 billion in the Vostochny launch facility, which is located in the Amur region close to the Chinese border. Russia´s last accomplished moon mission occurred in 1973.
The moon mission is part of a larger $70-billion plan to build a new rocket, and for the future of manned space travel by and beyond 2020. The Soyuz, which has been the backbone of the Russian Space Agency for more than 50 years, has garnered safety concerns due to some recent disastrous mission attempts.
The main concern being with the unmanned Soyuz failure in August 2011 that ended with the space vehicle crashing back to earth. And with Soyuz now being the only means of transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), after the American Space Shuttle program ended in July 2011, space officials from the US and abroad are relying on equipment that has not been updated since before the cold war.
Roscosmos has not yielded much information about its post-Soyuz plans and has definitely not made any announcement on a specific date for when a new rocket might fly.
The agency did reveal that it has called for the introduction of an “energy transportation module with a promising propulsion installation that will be ready for testing by 2018.”
But any Russian plan to update the Soyuz program for the future of manned space travel will have its hands full. It will be racing against several other firms that are already vying for the lucrative role of ferrying American astronauts, as well as those from other countries, to the ISS and abroad.
Companies such as SpaceX and Orbital are already in the midst of developing commercial spaceships that will make manned missions. SpaceX is already ahead of the curve after successfully deploying a cargo resupply mission to the ISS, using its reusable Dragon capsule. Both SpaceX and Orbital have multi-billion-dollar contracts with NASA over the next several years to resupply the ISS and to carry astronauts into space.
The US-based commercial projects have renewed faith in the American space race, giving NASA and its partners a reliable plan to keep their astronauts flying from home, rather than paying Russia more than $50 million per seat to make the trip.
And with Russia´s recent string of mishaps and mission failures, it is all too important for NASA to look to more reliable means of transportation.
Soyuz has served manned missions well, yet even Roscosmos knows when it´s time to move on. Still, Russian space officials have not let their past malfunctions sway their role as major market contenders.
"In 2011, the Russian space industry held a 10.7 percent share of the world space technology market," a Roscosmos report said, as cited by Discovery News. "The state program presumes further growth (of that share) to 14 percent in 2015 and to 16 percent in 2020." It intends to do this by keeping control of the Baikonur space center that Roscosmos leases from Kazakhstan and currently uses for its primary ISS launches.
However, the Central Asian republic is voicing its plans to limit Russia´s use of the facility and end their lease due to environmental concerns and contract disputes. Roscosmos said it would receive both state and private funding of $70 billion to continue its operations, yet failed to mention exactly where those funds would come from.