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Russia at work on new station, lunar trips: says top rocket scientist

Moscow (Sputnik)

Jan 24, 2018

Russia is set to spend the next decade working on a potential new station that might be built if the International Space Station (ISS) project is terminated, as well as a spacecraft capable of making trips to the Moon, General Designer of Russia’s Manned Programs Yevgeny Mikrin said Tuesday.

The ISS participants have agreed to maintain the program until 2024, but it is unclear what will happen afterward. In April last year, Igor Komarov, director general of the Russian national space agency, Roscosmos, said the Russian side was open to extending the program until 2028. However, no final decision has been made on the future of the project. The participants include Russian, US, Japanese, European and Canadian space agencies.

“If the decision is made to stop the work of the ISS, a Russian station may be set up… It is planned to include five modules,” Mikrin said at the Academic Space Conference in Moscow.

The station would be able to house a crew of three and it would weigh about 60 tonnes, that is, almost seven times less than the ISS.

For the time being, however, Russia is planning to finish the second phase of the construction of the Russian segment of the ISS and add three new modules to it. The modules are designed in a way that would allow them to become the basis for a new independent station.

A new cargo spacecraft with larger payload capacity that is being designed at Russia’s Rocket and Space Corporation Energia may be used to deliver supplies to the new station.


The flight and docking of the Federation manned spacecraft to the ISS, planned for 2024, is among the plans for the existing program, however, the Federation will be capable of a wide range of operations, including travel to the Moon.

The spacecraft, according to Mikrin, will be able to land on the surface of the Moon with a precision of 4.3 miles.

“The advantages of the new spacecraft is the possibility of multiple use of the landing section, up to 10 times, soft landing on a special landing device, the increase of the landing precision up to seven kilometers, ensuring the crew safety throughout the launch phase and increased comfort,” Mikrin explained.

The Federation can carry a crew of four and is intended for transporting cargo and people to the orbital station and to the Moon. The designer said that the Moon program is expected to culminate in the establishment of a Moon base, where it will be possible to mine for rare and precious resources, among other things.

The Federation spacecraft is capable of being in an autonomous flight for up to 30 days and a part of an orbital station for up to a year.

The first Federation is expected to be built by 2021.

Off to Moon With RD-150

The new hydrogen engine for the upper part of the super heavy-lift launch vehicle will be named RD-150, according to the designer.

The third-stage launcher will be designed based on RD-120 made for Buran project, a reusable spacecraft program that began in the 1970s.

Mikrin added that the first two stages would be designed based on the first stages of the Soyuz-5 rocket, currently under development.

The super heavy-lift launch vehicle is expected to be first used in 2023-2035 to deliver the Federation spacecraft to the Moon’s polar orbit.

Source: Moon Daily.



The Second Moon Race

by Simon Mansfield

Gerroa, Australia (SPX)

Mar 13, 2017

The US and China are in an undeclared race back to the Moon.

At first glance it’s easy to dismiss China’s efforts as being little more than what the US and Russia achieved decades ago. And while the pace of China’s manned launches has been slow with over a year in many cases between launches; looks can be deceptive and China has achieved each critical step towards building a permanent space station within the next few years. Meanwhile, its overall space program builds out each critical element to support regular manned space operations.

At the same time, the US continues to pursue its own mix of military, science and civil space operations. Compared to every other national space program the US leads by such a distance it’s hard to imagine its achievements being eclipsed anytime soon.

Among the so called space community there are several groupings. Some are traditional in outlook and view the space program in purely military and or scientific terms. And while there is obviously a healthy commercial space industry – the focus here has been entirely on Earth orbit platforms such as communications and earth observation satellites.

As is well known, another group has emerged over the past 20 years and is often described as New Space. With an initial focus on space tourism, this has expanded to asteroid mining and the colonization of Mars.

Having closely followed these developments the one clear conclusion is how little has actually occurred with these dreams. Despite the regular round of space conferences and the like, the same dreams are repeated over and over. And the years keep on passing by with little to show for their efforts.

Despite a flurry of space tourist flights to the ISS, no private paying passenger has ridden a Soyuz to the ISS since 2009. Virgin Galactic remains Earth bound, while nearly every other company selling space tourist dreams has folded. The only near term contender is WorldView, which plans to launch balloons to the upper stratosphere that will enable long duration flights to an altitude where the illusion of being in space is about as real as you can get without actually flying a 100km ballistic mission profile.

SpaceX is often portrayed as the great game changer. And, like Blue Origin, both companies have embraced new computer based design methodologies that have significantly sped up rocket engine development while also reducing costs. But Blue Origin has yet to launch a single payload into space, and SpaceX is wholly dependent on traditional customers such as NASA and the large commercial satellite communication operators.

SpaceX’s recent announcement of a cis-lunar mission faces no significant obstacles and may achieve its goal of launching two paying customers by 2018 – but there is no shortage of industry observers who seriously doubt that this timeframe is realistic and expect the launch date to slip to 2019/2020 and even longer.

For now, the real action will remain with the government space programs of the US, Russia, the EU, China and India.

Given NASA’s recent history of attempting to develop a new heavy lift launcher only to abandon yet another program after spending billions, it’s been easy to dismiss the Space Launch System as just another make work program for Alabama.

Frequently derided as the Senate Launch System, in honor of its government backers in the US Senate, there is far more to this than many realize.

That the SLS is so strongly backed by the US Senate, should point to what the real objective of the SLS program actually is.

The stated reason has been to travel and land on a passing asteroid and achieve a significant “space first” that would obviously play well for national prestige. And while this may be one of its mission objectives, the obvious similarities to the Saturn 5 launcher should make it clear why the Senate has so readily backed the SLS program. Namely as a ready-to-go launcher for an Apollo Redux should China show any intention or, more importantly, near-term capability of sending humans back to the Moon.

Despite the dreams and aspirations of so many across New Space national prestige is what drives the civil space programs today as much as it has done for the past 60+ years.

China would be delighted to be the second nation to make it to the moon in what would be an entirely new achievement that would signal to the world that China was the new Superpower to respect and aspire to.

The US Senate has, in my opinion, long understood the realpolitik of this and for this reason demanded that NASA develop the SLS program as an undeclared back up plan that could be readily sped up when China begins to make its play for a manned mission to the lunar surface.

Within the framework of global superpower politics – the US cannot allow China to land humans on the Moon before the US returns.

For China to be landing people on the Moon while the US can’t even launch its own astronauts to the ISS, would be a global projection of power that would be immensely damaging to US prestige and power.

It would appear that this intersection of superpower politics has been communicated to President Trump and the undeclared race back to the Moon is fast becoming a reality.

Elon Musk has sought to deal SpaceX into the game with the CIS-Lunar mission. China has now responded with a flurry of well placed stories in its domestic media about its own manned Lunar program. And all of sudden everyone is talking about sending humans back to the moon.

In response, the Mars or Bust crowd has begun complaining that this is all a distraction that will make the “Journey to Mars” an even more distant prospect than what it is now. And that only private enterprise can make us a space faring species.

The reality though is that the space tourism industry has achieved next to nothing of what it has promised over the past 15 years. The asteroid miners are just paper projects that fill in slots for the conference circuit and are decades away from recovering any minerals from an asteroid for commercial purposes.

Comparisons to the age of discovery of the 16th and 17th centuries are usually best taken with a grain of salt given the sailing ships of those times had a functioning biosphere readily at hand and actual gravity to support them, along with complete radiation protection and an endless supply of cheap labor and food.

However, there is one aspect that can be reasonably compared – and that is time. It took decades and in some cases centuries for the full potential of the new world to be exploited in any significant way. Moreover, spaceflight and terrestrial flight are not the same. They are separated by many orders of magnitude in cost and energy. It is therefore entirely unsurprising that we are only where we are now with space exploration and development. Logically, this will change over the coming decades, but it will take far longer than most are prepared to accept.

In the meantime, the Second Moon Race has begun, and will be readily embraced by NASA and its private industry contractors, be they legacy or new space.

Source: Space Daily.


Under Trump, the Moon regains interest as possible destination

Washington (AFP)

March 12, 2017

Dismissed by former US president Barack Obama as a place explorers had already seen, the Moon has once again gained interest as a potential destination under Donald Trump’s presidency.

Private sector companies in particular are energized by the prospect of future space exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit, where the International Space Station circles the Earth.

Even though Trump himself has said little about the subject, his close circle and some former NASA officials have made clear their interest in returning to the Moon by way of partnerships with the private sector.

Billionaire Elon Musk, the president and chief executive of SpaceX, along with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also runs a rocket company called Blue Origin, have met with Trump’s advisers several times since the Republican won the presidency.

“There is certainly a renewed interest in the Moon in the Trump administration,” said John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University.

Some of Trump’s advisers worked on the Constellation program, conceived by former president George W. Bush with a goal to return humans to the Moon for the first time since the pioneering US Apollo missions of the 1960s and ’70s.

Obama cancelled Constellation, deeming it too costly and repetitive in nature, opting instead to work toward new and unexplored destinations like an asteroid and, one day, Mars.

“The people advising Trump on space in a sense are still angry at that and believe it was a mistake,” said Logsdon.

“If the Trump administration gets out of the current chaos and if their approach to the budget would allow it, I think within the next 12 months, we will see a major space initiative involving a public-private partnership — hopefully international partnership — focused on a return to the Moon.”

– Bold –

Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which represents the private sector of spaceflight, agreed.

“I think the Trump administration wants to do something big and bold and the Moon is certainly that idea,” he told AFP.

NASA’s current focus on developing what will be the world’s most powerful rocket, known as the Space Launch System, which will propel a new capsule, Orion, to deep space, one day carrying people around the Moon, to an asteroid or even to Mars by the 2030s.

Stallmer described this program as “very expensive.”

“I think you cannot proceed with a mission to the Moon and beyond at this point anymore without a partnership with the commercial industry,” he added.

Since the US-run space shuttle program ended in 2011, NASA has forged partnerships with private industry, including SpaceX and Orbital ATK, to resupply the International Space Station.

SpaceX plans to start sending astronauts to the orbiting outpost as early as 2018.

“I know that there is no backing down from the commercial sector, from the commercial launch companies on their desire and vision to go to the Moon and beyond. These are very exciting times,” said Stallmer.

SpaceX said last month it had signed its first contract to send two space tourists on a trip around the Moon at the end of 2018, but did not give many details, including the cost or their identities.

SpaceX has also vowed to send an unmanned spacecraft on a journey to Mars in 2018, as a prelude to manned missions one day.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that its owner Bezos is working on an Amazon-like delivery service to the Moon.

The proposal has not been made public, but was circulated to the Trump team and NASA in the form of a seven-page white paper, the report said.

– Moon colonies –

The goal of the project is to enable “future human settlement” on the Moon.

“It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay,” Bezos was quoted as saying in an email to the Post.

“A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”

Oklahoma Republican lawmaker Jim Bridenstine, who has told Trump he wants to be the next NASA administrator, has praised cooperation between the US space agency and private industry, and called for a return to Moon mission as a way to boost needed resources on Earth, such as water.

Research has shown billions of tons of water ice can be found at each lunar pole.

“Water ice on the Moon could be used to refuel satellites in orbit or perform on-orbit maintenance,” he wrote in a blog post in December.

“Government and commercial satellite operators could save hundreds of millions of dollars by servicing their satellites with resources from the Moon rather than disposing of, and replacing, their expensive investments.”

This could translate into lower bills for users of satellite internet, television and radio services, he said.

The lunar soil is also believed to be rich in rare Earth minerals that are widely used in electronic devices.

The Google Lunar XPrize Foundation is also in on the action, recently announcing its five finalists for a $20 million award to the first team to land a robot on the Moon.

Source: Moon Daily.


NASA finds missing LRO, Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiters

Washington (UPI)

Mar 10, 2017

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said it has located its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft after disappearing for years.

JPL said scientists found the spacecrafts orbiting the moon by using a new technological application found on ground-based interplanetary radar.

“Finding LRO was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission’s navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located,” Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at JPL, said in a statement. “Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009.”

The Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1, which is a five-foot cube, launched on October 22, 2008, and NASA’s LRO launched on June 18, 2009.

JPL, which is located in the California Institute of Technology, said scientists found Chandrayaan-1 about 124 miles above the moon’s surface, but the spacecraft is considered lost. The spacecraft is more than 230,000 miles away.

To find the spacecraft, JPL used the 230-foot antenna in NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California to send out a powerful beam of microwaves toward the moon. Radar echoes then bounced back from the moon’s orbit and were received by the 330-foot Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is operated by the National Science Foundation with NASA funding, and has the most powerful astronomical radar system on Earth, conducted follow-up observations.

“Hunting down LRO and rediscovering Chandrayaan-1 have provided the start for a unique new capability. Working together, the large radar antennas at Goldstone, Arecibo and Green Bank demonstrated that they can detect and track even small spacecraft in lunar orbit,” JPL said in a statement. “Ground-based radars could possibly play a part in future robotic and human missions to the moon, both for a collisional hazard assessment tool and as a safety mechanism for spacecraft that encounter navigation or communication issues.”

Source: Moon Daily.


SpaceX to Fly Two Tourists to the Moon in 2018

Mar. 01, 2017

Private space exploration company SpaceX has announced its most ambitious mission yet—a plan to orbit the moon in 2018.

The company headed by scientific and tech mind Elon Musk claims that their mission is on-target, including having recruited two astronauts that have elected—and paid a hefty chunk of change—to have the privilege of going into space.

If everything goes as planned, the two space tourists would launch in late 2018 in a Dragon 2 capsule launched by SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. They would float past the moon before being pulled back in by gravity and returned to the Earth’s surface.

If SpaceX is successful in their venture, the two volunteers will be the first of humanity to take the trip in more than 40 years. Since the successful trips around and on the moon more than 40 years ago, no man (or woman) has made it anywhere close to the big cheese in the sky—mostly due to the fact that scientists felt they had gathered enough information and could not justify another expensive and dangerous trip around the moon just for the sake of doing it.

Still, SpaceX clearly has something to prove and taking a trip around our small orbiting crater is an important next step. SpaceX has announced plans in the past to take humanity all the way to Mars in the next few years, so this trip will be considered a vital prerequisite for that ambitious project.

Meanwhile, some are skeptical that SpaceX is attempting too much too soon.

Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, said in the New York Times:

“It strikes me as risky. I find it extraordinary that these sorts of announcements are being made when SpaceX has yet to get crew from the ground to low-Earth orbit.”

While the tourists would be trained, they would mostly be relying on automated systems during their trip, meaning that they would have nowhere near the survival training that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronauts experience. If something were to go wrong, they wouldn’t be much help in saving themselves or their spacecraft.

This new venture of private companies tackling the space race is a test for the government and society. If SpaceX can prove its worth by safely transporting these tourists and returning them back home, safe and sound, it will go a long way in proving that the private tech and space company has what it takes to get us to Mars.

Source: EcoWatch.


Permanent Lunar Colony Possible in 10 Years

Moscow (Sputnik)

Mar 15, 2016

Living on the Moon may become a reality sooner than anticipated as astrophysicists have assessed that a permanent lunar base is logistically feasible for humans – and could be built in less than a decade.

Scientific papers released after a 2014 high-profile astronomical workshop suggest that a fully operational base could be constructed by 2022. The base would be a breakthrough for space exploration and would open the pathway for the commercial development of space.

A key point, according to the papers, is that a permanent lunar base does not have to financially ruin a state or corporation. Experts estimate that putting humans on the moon would cost less than $10 billion, a surprisingly low amount considering the expense of space exploration in the past. The Apollo space program, for instance, was completed for some $150 billion, adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars.

Chris McKay, a NASA astrobiologist and one of the organizers of the workshop, explained that price cuts are now possible due to the rapid development of new technologies, ending highly specialized and expensive development in the logistics of space exploration.

“The big takeaway,” McKay said as cited by Popular Science, “is that new technologies, some of which have nothing to do with space – like self-driving cars and waste-recycling toilets – are going to be incredibly useful in space, and are driving down the cost of a moon base to the point where it might be easy to do.”

In its first phase, the exploration would be fully automated, the papers suggest. Robots, whimsically dubbed “MoonCats,” based on the ubiquitous Bobcat earth excavators, could be used to prepare landing pads and habitat. Other robots could be engaged in setting up solar panels.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket could be used for carrying small payloads and small crews to the moon. Over time, missions would steadily grow, eventually turning a station into a larger settlement, with room for hundreds of people.

To make a station habitable, technologies similar to the life support systems currently used on the International Space Station (ISS) can be implemented.

“We have access to sufficient life support technologies to support implementation of the first human settlement on the Moon today,” one paper reads, referring to ISS life support systems that recycle water and balance oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

Some necessary space exploration technologies are yet to be implemented, including SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, a rocket designed to lift large payloads, like lunar habitats, into orbit.

Major Challenges

Lunar colonists face many challenges, including power, communications, resources and surface mobility. Picking the right site for a base is particularly key, as there are no significant energy supplies during the regular two-week intervals of no sunlight. Most of the moon has 15 day-long “nights,” that would be difficult to survive relying only on power batteries that use currently available technology. A possible option, according to the papers, would be to locate the base on one of the lunar poles, which receive increased sunlight.

Of the two poles, the north is more appealing, as it has smoother terrain more suitable for construction. Experts point to the rim of Peary Crater on the North Pole of the moon as a top spot to set up the first lunar station.

Another point in favor of this site is the proximity of many dark craters thought to contain frozen water.

Moon or Mars

Despite the feasibility of moon exploration, NASA is currently focused on its Mars program. Scientists behind the papers say that NASA resources would more appropriately be used in setting up a moon colony.

Paul Spudis, a senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute at the Universities Space Research Association, earlier suggested that a lunar base, with “transport vehicles, staging nodes, deep-space habitats, power stations and fuel depots” could be a blueprint for future Mars colonization.

Moreover, he suggested, a lunar base could pay for itself in a foreseeable future, and, if it is economically required, show a profit.

“Some of the possible export options include: water from the permanently shadowed craters, precious metals from asteroid impact sites, and even [helium-3] that could fuel a pollution-free terrestrial civilization for many centuries,” one of the papers offered. “As transportation to and from the Moon becomes more frequent and cheaper, the lunar tourism mark should begin to emerge and could become a significant source of income in the future.”

Additionally such major powers as China and Russia are actively exploring the moon and the US must keep up with them so as to not lose technological momentum.

Psychological Barrier

Organizations, including those of government and business, are not yet psychologically prepared to bring the resources to bear for the realization of a lunar colony.

“The biggest obstacle is getting everybody together, and getting a vision of a low-cost base as the starting point. If people think it’s going to kill the budget, that just stops the conversation and brainstorming. If we can change the mindset, that starts the conversation and gets people thinking about how to make it a reality,” McKay said.

Source: Moon Daily.


Russia plans return to Mars, Moon despite money woes

By Maria Antonova

Moscow (AFP)

Feb 19, 2016

Visitors are rare these days to the museum of Russia’s Space Research Institute in Moscow even though it holds gems like the model of the Soviet Lunokhod, the first ever space rover to land on the Moon, in 1970.

While the Cold War space race fired such cutting-edge projects, Russia’s planetary exploration has stalled for the past three decades — until now.

Under an ambitious plan with the European Space Agency (ESA), scientists have new hope of again sending missions to the Moon and to Mars.

“The last decade was truly difficult for us,” the institute’s director Lev Zeleny told AFP.

Among the biggest blunders was the tragic Phobos-Grunt probe, which in 2011 failed to reach its planned course to one of the moons of Mars and crashed back to Earth over the Pacific Ocean.

“But now the program is entering a new stage for this decade.”

Next month, a Russian Proton rocket is scheduled to launch the first of two missions under ExoMars, a joint venture with the ESA, to snoop out possible life, past or present, to the red planet.

Zeleny’s hopes are high that this will return Moscow to its glory days of space exploration — if the project actually gets off the ground.

In the first mission, an orbital spacecraft will search for traces of methane in the atmosphere of Mars — possible evidence of biological activity.

For the second part in 2018, Russian engineers are to build a complex landing system to drop an ESA-built Martian rover to the planet’s surface, a platform not only to ensure a soft landing but also to serve as “a science lab in itself” for inspecting the landing site, said Zeleny.

“If we manage this, it will be a major breakthrough,” he said.

– Financial limbo –

The ambitious plan, however, has caused jitters among some observers and is dismissed as a pipe dream by others.

In January, the ESA already warned that the 2018 mission could be delayed due to cash flow problems.

With the economic crisis, the Russian government is likewise pressed to make budget cuts and space exploration is far from one of its priorities.

The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, is itself in financial limbo but went ahead and announced its program for the next decade in January, though the plan has yet to be confirmed, said Igor Marinin, editor of Space News magazine.

“Now there is no plan, so there is no financing and Roscosmos is taking out loans just to pay salaries,” he told AFP. “For this reason, I’m skeptical, and I don’t think we will make a good landing platform in the time that’s left.”

Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov last month admitted that Russia “does not have financial capabilities for advanced space projects.”

He also complained that it was difficult to import some critical components, a problem caused by Western sanctions imposed over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

While sanctions “are not fatal,” conceded Zeleny, they “are rather like an ant crawling under your collar — they tickle and distract you.”

Beyond the money issues, skeptics note that Russia has not carried out a Mars landing since the 1970s and a failure could destroy ESA’s rover.

This would be disastrous since the ExoMars-2018 rover is “the most expensive European planetary spacecraft under development for almost two decades,” said Anatoly Zak, the editor of, a website that tracks the country’s space industry.

But if the landing does succeed, “it could serve as a model for the future cooperation with Europe in deep-space exploration,” Zak said.

– Cooperation –

Zeleny has far-reaching plans for such cooperation, notably resuming Moon exploration which largely stopped in 1976 when the US and the Soviets focused on other parts of space.

He said Russia wants to help set up an international research base on the planet, where the absence of atmosphere or radio noise create perfect conditions for astronomers.

It hopes to launch a first mission by 2019 to explore the Moon’s south pole, seen as a potential spot to set up a system of telescopes that humans would fly in and out to adjust in shifts. This would be “much like people working in the Arctic in Russia,” said Zeleny, adding that some sort of “lunar dugouts” would have to be constructed to protect the moon visitors from cosmic rays.

Called Luna-25, the project would be the first such probe since Russia’s Luna-24 discovered water on the Moon in 1976 — and will pick up on the famous Soviet Luna series that was the first to land a spacecraft on the moon, in 1959.

Only the US landed men on the Moon, the first in 1969, and ended its program with the Apollo 17 space flight in 1972.

Back then, no expense was spared in the space race and “scientists reaped many benefits from the competition,” Zeleny said.

But now the only way forward is to collaborate.

Zeleny said his institute recently resumed discussions with US colleagues about a joint mission to send “a long-term” landing craft to Venus, a project on hold since 2013 due to political frictions over Ukraine.

“Scientists have long been interested in this cooperation, but now it’s finally supported by Roscosmos and NASA,” Zeleny said.

Source: Mars Daily.


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