Posted 16 апреля 2021,, 07:31

Published 16 апреля 2021,, 07:31

Modified 24 декабря 2022,, 22:36

Updated 24 декабря 2022,, 22:36

At a crossroads: what will be the manned cosmonautics after the closure of the ISS in 2024

At a crossroads: what will be the manned cosmonautics after the closure of the ISS in 2024

16 апреля 2021, 07:31
The closure of the International Space Station in 2024 is approaching, and all space powers have started new projects - except Russia. In the homeland of manned astronautics, complete uncertainty reigns. It may happen that with the flooding of the ISS, it will end in Russia.

Yelena Ivanova, Natalia Seibil

It's time for Russia to think about life after the ISS is gone. This is what statesmen have recently been doing in the Kremlin. The meeting with the participation of the president was closed, but the echoes of the discussion reached the public.

As it became known, the national station ROSS should become an alternative to the ISS, which the jokers from Telegram immediately dubbed "Fort Ross" - by analogy with the strengthening of Russian pioneers in the Northwest of the American continent. A prophetic joke - Russia, leaving the largest international project, and in space is going to live according to the "Fortress" plan.

The meeting in the Kremlin was held behind a veil of secrecy, and neither the public nor the space industry learned about the course of the discussion, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics K.E. Tsiolkovsky, chief analyst of NP GLONASS Andrey Ionin:

"It is very bad that the decision will be made in a behind-the-scenes format, when the head of Roscosmos proposes to the president, and then it is not clear by whom and how the worked out decision will be approved. The cost of the issue is very high, and financially high, and strategically high for the fate of Russian space. This is too serious a question to be tackled behind the scenes".

Excuse me, as you said, what should be the name of the new station? - asks us the head of the Institute of Space Policy Ivan Moiseyev:

"Our boss (head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin - noted by Novye Izvestia) loves new names. This name has appeared recently, of course, nothing has been done. New stations have been built in our country for decades, and in general the average time for such things is 7 years. There is no solution yet, no funding".

International space station

Construction of the ISS began in 1998. The station was designed for 15 years, but since such projects are made with a margin, its service life was repeatedly extended. The core of the most complex engineering 400-ton structure was the Russian Zarya module, which was made at the Khrunichev plant, which is part of RSC Energia. Ivan Moiseyev says:

"The last extension until 2024-25 was made a year ago. This is done by RSC Energia, since it is responsible for it, and it provides a guarantee for Boeing. And Boeing, at the beginning of construction, bought this oldest Zarya block, which determines everything else. There were talks to extend until 2030. But, apparently, this will not happen, especially since cracks have appeared, which most likely indicate fatigue of the metal".

Any technical system, and even more so as complex as the ISS, operating in aggressive conditions, such as space, radiation, temperature drops, and so on - sooner or later the technical system reaches its limit - not a warranty period, but a limit, explains Andrey Ionin. Under an agreement with the Americans, the station will be disposed of by RSC Energia - it has a successful experience in launching and flooding the Mir station. But the task is incomparably more difficult - Mir weighed 120 tons, ISS - 3.5 times more:

"It needs to be disposed of, as we disposed of the Mir station, but in a controlled manner, that is, to divide it into separate elements, and drown each element. If Mir weighed 120 tons, now the ISS weighs in the region of 400 tons. This is a daunting task, and it is clear that it must be carried out in a controlled manner".

The station is shutting down, but the Nauka field laboratory module is to be delivered to it. It was supposed to fly into space more than 10 years ago, but RSC Energia did not work with Nauka. There was pollution, big alterations, and there is no end-edge to problems. In the fall, the start was scheduled for this spring, now it has been shifted to fall. We do everything with a shift to the right, says Ivan Moiseyev - the terms are all pushed back and postponed. If the station has 4 years left to live, then there is no sense in sending Nauka there. The launch does not mean an automatic start of work, the module still needs to be prepared and put into operation in orbit, and before the descent of the station, it will again be mothballed.

But it is also impossible to use it for a new station, if a decision is made to create it and is allocated for this funding - it is impossible to use it for a new station - “Science will not be able to become a core like Zarya for the ISS. Due to alterations, the module lost the ability to refuel. Experts say that there are two more units at the stage of production, but apart from technical problems that can be solved, there is no fundamental solution, and there is no funding.

Life after the ISS

The space programs of all countries are closely related to politics, and the ISS is an example of this. The 90s, a decade of openness and globalization around the world, made possible the cooperation of former enemies and taught people to coexist, if not on Earth, then at least in orbit. Competition and competitiveness have not been canceled, but thanks to working side by side in space, astronauts, cosmonauts, scientists, engineers have the opportunity to show their best achievements in direct contact. Space experts say that it will also be possible to work within the framework of the national station, but such work will be an unconditional step backward.

"The main achievement of the ISS is not technology, but the fact that we have learned to work together in space. Therefore, if the Americans go to the moon in the international format, and we return to the national format, it will be a big step back, - Andrey Ionin sums up the work of the station".

Ivan Moiseyev recalls Soviet times, when the USSR did everything on its own. The decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union have shown that cooperation greatly speeds things up:

"In our industry it is considered so - if there is no international cooperation, then there is no need to work, because there is no one to boast to. This is the exchange of technologies, knowledge, skills, and, in parallel, the sharing of costs and risks. Cooperation greatly speeds things up, although for a number of projects it is possible without cooperation".

Leaving the ISS for Russia will mean the completion of the manned program, says Ivan Moiseyev, because we have no other program. Until 2024, Russia is obliged to finance the ISS, but it is difficult to obtain a budget for the parallel development of the post-ISS project.

Now Russian manned space exploration takes 30-40% of the total funding for space. Until last year, Americans used our Soyuz for their astronauts after the Shuttle crash in 2003, and in recent years have paid up to $ 70-80 million per seat. In total, over 9 years, Roskosmos received half a billion dollars for astronaut flights to the Soyuz. Since last year, the US has been launching its own rockets - now NASA is sending astronauts aboard Elon Musk's ships.

"What is currently being spent on maintaining the ISS until 2025 is our Federal program - all this money has been allocated. This is a fairly large amount. If we build a new station, we will need funding from the budget. These payments will exceed what we pay for the ISS. Obligations for the ISS remain, and they will also have to be paid. We simply cannot afford such payments. There is money in the budget, but the industry will not be able to master it with such speed", - Ivan Moiseyev is sure.

Three paths

What are the options for preserving manned space exploration?

Andrey Ionin says that there are three options. As usual.

In December 2017, President Trump signed a directive that set a new challenge for NASA - to return to manned flights to the moon by 2024. In the same year, NASA announced the start of the Artemis program. It is striking that the administration of the new American president, Joe Biden, has confirmed the project. Since Bill Clinton, each successive president has routinely canceled the space plans of his predecessor. The current owner of the White House has retained funding for Artemis, despite all the political controversy with Trump.

The program is planned internationally. To date, the European Union, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom are participating in it together with the United States.

"The project on the Moon is extremely costly, so nobody can finance both the ISS and Artemis, so something will have to be sacrificed. The costs are rather big. The US is spending an estimated $ 3 billion on maintaining the ISS project. Taking into account financial considerations, and considering where to go next, and they are already actively working on this. They already have contracts, consortia, a roadmap. It will not be difficult for them, they will complete one project and smoothly move on to another", - says Andrey Ionin.

According to the plan, in 2024, astronauts will land on the moon again. True, now there are fears that this date will be shifted due to the pandemic. In addition, NASA has requested $ 3.2 billion from Congress to develop a human landing system on the moon, a critical component of the Artemis program. The money was allocated, but in a much smaller amount. This decision will shift all the deadlines. Then the landing on the moon will occur after the end of the presidential term of Joe Biden, and this will affect the allocation of money for the program.

However, here the Americans are definitely ahead of Russia.

What prevents Russia from joining Artemis, given that there is a positive experience of cooperation on the ISS, which no one denies? Mentality, says Andrey Ionin. Americans consider "Artemis" their project, and all other participants should be on the sidelines:

"Russia is a subject of world politics, and it cannot just a priori assume secondary roles. We are not the European Union, for which we have not put a chair - they sit on the sofa. In the conditions in which it is proposed now, Russia is unlikely to agree to follow the completely understandable, not even political, but mental ones".

The expert hints at a recent meeting of the EU leadership with Turkish leader Erdogan, when the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, did not have enough space at the table, and she had to sit on a sofa standing nearby. So Erdogan decided to take revenge on the German woman von der Leyen and bring discord to the leadership of the European Union. Russia will not sit on the "sofa", the expert said.

However, the impossibility of Russia's participation in the new international project is explained not only by the desire to get up from its knees, but also by the general political situation. It is difficult to demand equal treatment, being imposed on all sides by sanctions. No one denies the merits of our country in space exploration in the world, but the times when Americans, Russians and other Europeans lived in the same space house are over. At least at this stage.

The second option is to create your own "space club". Over the past 20 years, countries other than America and Russia have appeared in the world with their own stellar programs, for example, China, or India.

- In my opinion, it is the most correct and the most realizable. It will require the least cost, the most effective is correct from all points of view. But we understand that this is not a decision of Roscosmos, it is a political decision, because this project will last for decades. It will be a pretty expensive project anyway. This is a political decision at the level of the country's leader after a serious discussion, but even after that it will be necessary, if we choose the Russian-Chinese format, President Putin will have to talk with Chairman Xi, says Andrei Ionin.

Other experts are highly critical of the new Russian-Chinese orbital epic. First, says Ivan Moiseyev, we have different orbital inclinations, and this creates additional technical difficulties. And secondly, and most importantly, China does not invite us to its program. Yes, the eastern neighbor is beginning to build his own station, which will be smaller in size than our "Mir", but no real proposals from either China to Russia or from Russia have been received by China:

"No real proposals came from either China or us. This option is not considered. They say in words that we need to cooperate. Neither the signed documents nor the Russian documents contain any projects or proposals to start such cooperation".

The third and final option remains - the construction of a national station. Talk about this began about a year ago. The very formulation of the question seems illogical. If the Americans are switching to the lunar program, why does Russia remain in low-earth orbit? Andrey Ionin says:

"All other questions hang, because for the last few years Roskosmos has been telling us about the Sphere project (the creation of a satellite constellation of several hundred spacecraft - noted by Novye Izvestia), about the super-heavy rocket project (Yenisei for the lunar and Martian programs - noted by Novye Izvestia), about the exploration of the Moon, and now I came out with this project. But our budgets are not rubber, then we have to choose something. If we make the ROSS station, then we will definitely not pull the lunar project, and then why do we need a super-heavy rocket, because it is needed only for the lunar project. It is difficult to trust Roskosmos".

The national station was drawn, says Ivan Moiseyev, but only on paper and only by hand. From the decision to make a station to its implementation, the road is long:

"There are many stages from the solution - the development of technical proposals, draft design, detailed design, drawings, manufacturing. In 2015, we stopped the production of modules at Khrunichev (State Research and Production Space Center named after M.V. Khrunichev - "NI"). Khrunicheva made modules for stations. He made this "Dawn", "Science", energy modules. This production has been discontinued. It costs a lot of money to resume this production. When they start counting this money, I am afraid that they will have to give up this thought.

The official figure of how much the new station will cost has not been announced. The construction time of the station from the moment of project approval to the launch of the first module is at best 7 years - if everything goes smoothly and there are no problems. But few people believe in this. If the ISS is flooded in 2024-25, Russia will have nowhere to fly for at least 5 years. But this is an optimistic scenario".