Saturday, May 23, 2009

Russian Space Station Plans

According to this very interesting article, Russia is planning to take a very different long-term approach to space exploration than the US. Rather than abandoning and destroying the International Space Station in just 6 years from now, perhaps 10 years in the more optimistic scenario, they want to reconfigure the Russian modules and use them as the basis for a long-term space-based construction site.

This is not much of a surprise, really. The US kept the first multi-crew space station (Skylab) manned for about half of a year, then watched as its orbit decayed - crashing back to earth about 5 years later - because we had no ability to launch a spacecraft to maintain it. We shifted all of our (limited) resources to the Shuttle, which could have done the job it it had not been delayed by several years.

We have a short attention span, jumping from one project to another. Our next one is a direct return to the moon. Building that next launch vehicle will surely have so many delays that we won't be able to get back to ISS even if we wanted to. Its continued operation into the next decade will be a result of vehicles built and operated by others.

Russia, on the other hand, kept Mir in use for more than a decade, learning how to maintain a space station over a long period of time. Their plan is to let the US decouple all of its modules and destroy them, using a new junction module (needed because the current junction modules belong to the US) to assemble the Russian components into a station that might become the first "space dock".

From the end of this article:

Unlike the ISS, which was advertised primarily as a platform for scientific research, Russia's future space station, dubbed the Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex (OPSEK) would have the primary goal of supporting deep space exploration.

Behind the scenes, Russian engineers have drawn up ambitious plans for orbital stations around the Earth and the Moon, and eventually in the orbit of Mars. These would be linked by re-usable tugs, shuttling between them continuously to support the sustained exploration of the Solar System.

After separation from rest of the ISS, the station's 20-tonne service module could eventually be replaced by a 40-tonne living quarters launched by a new family of launch vehicles.

In turn, this module could ultimately serve as a construction site and a base for the Martian expedition complex, which could be assembled in Earth orbit in the mid-2030s to carry the first humans to the Red Planet.
Very interesting.

1 comment:

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Interesting indeed! I never knew that Skylab was operable for <1. I always assumed it was functionally for much longer.