Russia is expected to spend 2.1 trillion rubles—about $70 billion—on the development of its national space industry in the next eight years, according to a statement last week by Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, which was quoted by Space Daily and RIA Novosti. He revealed that the plan is designed to satisfy three fundamental aims: ensuring that Russia maintains its position as a leading global space power, supporting its defense capability, and boosting its overall economic and social development. “The program will enable our country to effectively participate in forward-looking projects,” said Medvedev, “such as the ISS, the study of the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies in the Solar System.”
At present, the International Space Station is a crucial arm in that program, with approximately a third of the Earth-orbiting outpost constructed and operated by Russia. Their hardware includes the Zvezda service module, which provides primary attitude control and living quarters, together with the Zarya control module, the Pirs airlock, the Poisk and Rassvet Mini-Research Modules, and the Soyuz and Progress crew and cargo vehicles. Of these elements, Zarya was the first ISS element to be launched, way back in November 1998, and it offered electrical power, propulsion, and guidance for the fledgling station in its first two years of operational life. With the arrival of Zvezda in July 2000, the door was opened for the station’s first permanent long-duration crews.
More than a decade later, the Russian Segment remains a critical component of the ISS, although its final scheduled element, the Nauka science module, has been the subject of significant delay and is not expected to arrive until 2013 at the earliest. In the meantime, Russia has enabled Assured Crew Return capability since the outset, with variants of its Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station at all times, to allow expedition crew members to return to Earth in the event of emergencies. Whilst much criticism has been leveled at NASA for having yielded its ability to launch Americans into space to Russia since 2011, the fact remains that even in the late Shuttle era, Soyuz was the only vehicle with a year-round capability to support Assured Crew Return.
At present, Russia operates four flights per annum of its Soyuz to the station, each delivering three members to maintain it at near-continuous six-person strength. This was most recently demonstrated with the launch of Soyuz TMA-07M on 19 December, which brought Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, and Canada’s Chris Hadfield to the ISS. Original planning sought the launch of a fifth Soyuz to allow Russia to resume launches of fare-paying astronauts, but this appears not to have occurred and efforts seem to have shifted toward sending members of expedition crews on year-long missions—rather than standard six-month flights—to open up seats for passengers, such as British soprano Sarah Brightman. Under its new budget, Russia will continue to provide this Soyuz support, and in March 2011 NASA signed a $753 million contract modification for the training, preparation, and transport of 12 astronauts to and from the station in the 2014-16 timeframe.
In addition to its contracted obligations for the ISS, Russia has plans for future lunar and Martian missions, despite the dismal fate of Phobos-Grunt, whose launch vehicle failed to boost it out of Earth orbit and which ended its days burning up in the atmosphere. A mission called ‘Luna-Glob’ envisages the launch of the first of four voyages to the Moon, possibly as early as 2015, to establish an orbiter around our closest celestial neighbor and deploy Japanese-built penetrating instruments into its surface.
Subsequent missions include Luna-Glob-2 (or ‘Luna-Resurs’), which will involve significant contributions from India, in the form of the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, and a Russian-provided surface rover to land near one of the lunar poles. Although India finalized its payload for Chandrayaan-2 in August 2010, the development of the six-wheeled, solar-powered rover effected significant delay, and the loss of Phobos-Grunt pushed the launch back even further. Still, the Luna-Glob-2 mission offers a promise of significant collaboration between the two nations, with launch anticipated atop India’s giant Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) from Sriharikota Island. Later, from 2020 and beyond, missions may involve in-situ soil analysis, the return of a couple of pounds of lunar material to Earth, and possibly some form of ‘robotic base’. The latter remains largely undefined at present, but will include a solar power and telecommunications station to support an extensive array of scientific instruments and a long-distance surface rover.
Further afield are plans for voyages to Venus and Mars, both of which Russia has enjoyed a long and often tortured love affair. Venera-D, which may be launched atop a Proton or the new Angara rocket, is currently pencilled-in for 2016 and will mark the first Russian mission to Venus since the Soviet era. It is expected to perform remote-sensing observations of the planet, using radar instruments to peer beneath its thick atmospheric veil. Intriguingly, one of Venera-D’s objectives is listed as mapping future landing sites, not for humans, but for a possible robotic lander. The latter is being designed to survive for longer than the 90 minutes or so endured by earlier probes. Venera-D will build upon a proud heritage: no fewer than eight landers succeeded in touching down on Venus’ hellish surface in 1970-82, revealing the presence of leucite and tholeiitic basalts and, possibly, lightning.
The failure of Phobos-Grunt has not deterred Russia from its effort to participate with ESA in the 2018 ExoMars mission. This originally featured co-operation from NASA, but the Obama Administration forced the agency to terminate its involvement in February of last year, citing budgetary constraints and the need to fund the flagship James Webb Space Telescope. Within a month or so, ESA had secured a new partnership with Russia, and the current schedule calls for the launch of an orbiter and stationary lander (the Trace Gas Orbiter) in 2016, followed by a Russian lander and rover in 2018.
This is expected to be confirmed early next year, with the formal signing of contracts, in which Russia has stipulated that it will offer a Proton launch vehicle as payment for the partnership, together with Russian instruments aboard the Trace Gas Orbiter and the requirement that all intellectual property from the voyage will belong equally to ESA and the Russian Academy of Sciences. In recent months, new ESA members Poland and Romania agreed to contribute up to 70 million euros—around $92.5 million—to ExoMars. Fundamental aims of the mission are the ongoing search for possible biosignatures of past or present microbial life on the Red Planet, together with the characterization of the surface and subsurface environment and to identify constraints for future human expeditions.
In addition to its aspirations in near-Earth space and lunar and planetary exploration, Russia’s new Angara rocket—toted to replace several other vehicles and become a future mainstay of its unmanned launcher fleet—is scheduled to make its first flight in 2013. Major science missions include the Spektr-RG (Roentgen Gamma) high-energy astrophysics mission, which is scheduled for launch early in 2014 to observe interplanetary magnetic fields, galaxies, and black holes across the range from the far ultraviolet to hard X-ray. It will carry instruments built in the United Kingdom and Israel.
Despite the dismal fate of Phobos-Grunt, the future appears to be brightening for Russia’s space ambitions, assuming that targets can be met and funding is maintained and properly appropriated. According to Dmitri Paison, director of development at the Skolkovo space cluster, speaking to RIA Novosti, the 2013-2020 plan provides a necessary framework for space-related programs. “It comprises the Federal Space Program, the Federal Special Program for the Development of the GLONASS System, the program for the development of space launch centers, and the non-classified part of the program for the technical modernization of the industry,” he said.