Russia Outlines Human and Robotic Spaceflight Plans to 2030
Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has posted its long term plans for human and robotic spaceflight on its website. The plan outlines Russia's space goals through 2030.
One focus is completing construction of the new Vostochny ("Eastern") launch site near Svobodny in far eastern Russia. The Russian government has had a goal of building a new launch site within its borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. One of its two launch sites, the Baikonur Cosmodrome, is in Kazakhstan. Russia has been leasing the site from Kazakhstan since the former Soviet republic became an independent country. Baikonur (formerly referred to as Tyuratam) is used for launches to the International Space Station, to geostationary orbits, and many other orbital and deep space destinations. Russia's plans to build a new launch site inside Russia to replace its use of Baikonur have had their twists and turns over the past 20 years. (Russia's other major launch site, Plesetsk, is within Russia's boundaries near the Arctic Circle and is used for launches into polar orbit, primarily military satellites.)
Zak says the new Russian space strategy, publicly released on April 26, calls for Vostochny to be completed by 2015, which he calls "a practically impossible to fullfill promise." By 2020, a launch complex for a new Russian launch vehicle, Rus-M, would be completed. Russia has been working on several new families of rockets for years, too, and Zak's assessment is that 2020 is "another unreachable goal." A new crew spacecraft to replace the venerable Soyuz, another development planned for many years, would be ready about the same time under the new strategy, but Zak is similarly pessimistic about achieving that milestone. Russian participation in robotic missions to Venus, Jupiter and asteroids are also listed for this time period, but without specific launch dates. Right now, Russia is working with the European Space Agency (ESA) on a 2016 mission to Mars
During the 2020s, a heavy lift rocket is to be developed for launch from Vostochny to support human trips to the moon and Russia would launch robotic missions to Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. Russia has never sent spacecraft to the outer planets. It has launched a number of very successful robotic missions to the Moon and Venus and two probes that intercepted Halley's Comet. Its attempts to send robotic probes to Mars have largely failed. The Russian document included launching spacecraft to clean up debris in Earth orbit and to mitigate the threat to Earth from asteroids during the 2020s, according to Zak.
The document sets priorities among its various goals, Zak adds. The first priority is applications missions; second is "manned transport systems, including reusable rockets"; while an internationally-sponsored human mission to Mars and a new space station are last. Zak's summary does not mention the timeframe envisioned for the latter objectives.
The strategy was created in response to a directive from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin shortly after he took on the assignment of finding the problems in the Russian space sector and fixing them at the end of 2011. Russia suffered an unusual number of launch failures last year, including the failure of its highly anticipated Phobos-Grunt sample return mission to Mars' moon Phobos. On December 29, 2011, Rogozin gave Roscosmos 50 days to present a strategy through 2030. According to Zak, it was approved by Roscosmos on March 6, 2012 and then submitted to the Kremlin and other parts of the Russian government, all leading to its release April 26.
Zak, a highly respected New York-based Russian space analyst, criticizes the plan for "vague wording and hefty proclamations," but calls it an effort "to steer the industry toward more pragmatic goals than prestige-oriented projects inherited from the Soviet period." Nevertheless, "the agency apparently still had no choice but to confirm its commitment to a costly and mostly politically motivated enterprise" to build Vostochny, he says.
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