The Russian Space Agency’s head, Vladimir Popovkin, has announced Russia’s plans for space in the coming decade. Among the priorities, to be implemented before 2020, is sending a spacecraft to the Moon. A fleet of small spacecraft to be deployed for near-Earth missions is also proposed to expand Russia’s microsatellite program.
Small spacecraft for near-Earth science
Vladimir Popovkin has just opened the third International Moscow Solar System Symposium at the Space Research Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Russia’s Federal Space Agency chief outlined several basic planetary and space plasma missions to be implemented in the coming years.
It seems that Russia’s space science revival will begin with small steps and international collaboration. Two microsatellite launches will take place next year, namely RELEK and Lomonosov (built by the Lomonosov Moscow State University) for space plasma and cosmic ray studies. Working on the projects alongside Russian organizations, will be representatives from Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, South Korea, Mexico and the USA.
The RELEK experiment continues the microsatellite series that was started this year with the launch of Zond-PP. Both spacecraft utilize the specially designed MKA-FKI microsatellite platform, recently developed by the Lavochkin design bureau. The same platform will also be used for further missions to be launched in 2014 and 2015. The project will consist of two spacecraft; RESONANCE will study what happens in the Earth’s magnetic fields, followed by the “Strannik” solar wind project. The latter will be launched at approximately the same time as NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, and, according to Popovkin, attempts will be made to synchronize them.
Microsatellites are relatively cheap to develop and deliver into orbit, despite their small size they collect valuable data and provide an orbital system for constant monitoring of Earth, the near-Earth environment and other phenomena. A longer-term objective is to prolong the lifetime of such missions, it is hoped that RESONANCE will last no less than 5 years.
Mars looming beyond
Outlining the Russian planetary program, Vladimir Popovkin said three separate missions to the Moon would take place before 2020. Two of them continue on from the former Luna-Glob mission, now split into separate landing and orbital projects. In addition to their scientific objectives, to study the lunar South Pole and its surrounding plasma, the missions will also be used as test-beds for future planetary projects. New thrusting systems will be used to adjust the spacecraft’s orbit altitude from around 100 km to 50 km and then as far as 500 km. A new data transmission system will be also necessary, the lunar missions are expected to generate around 2 gigabytes of data every day.
Breaking the Luna Glob project into two missions carried into space by two separate rockets also brings advantages for space science; there will be more room available for scientific experiments aboard each of the spacecraft. The first Luna-Glob landing missions are being planned for the end of 2015 or early 2016. Two or three years later, in 2017/18 the Luna-Resurs project will be launched to further the study of lunar polar soil. As Vladimir Popovkin pointed out, the mission also provides opportunities for wider international cooperation, with the European Space Agency in the first instance.
It is also intended for the lunar program to be interwoven with manned spaceflight, although no specific details were given about possible human involvement in the projects.
Then comes Mars. Popovkin confirmed that an agreement for the ExoMars project will be signed between the ESA and Roscosmos in November. As far as Russian missions are concerned, namely, the second Fobos-Grunt, no final decisions have yet been made. Although it is highly likely that Fobos-Grunt 2 will feature in the next Federal Space Program (2015/16), its future still depends strongly on the outcome of the lunar missions.
Even more undefined are the prospects for a mission to land a spacecraft on the surface of Venus; this project may form part of longer-term plans in 2020–25. Much more distinct is the future for the mission to Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede, as it is closely connected with the European JUICE mission to orbit Jupiter’s icy moons. Popovkin also speculated that these two missions might even merge, which would make their launch and operation easier.
In a nutshell, outline plans for the coming decade have been formulated, though inevitably they will change according to how the actual situation plays out. Then, there are also solar projects and expeditions to explore some of the smaller bodies in the Solar System. But the core of Russia’s future space program seems now to be more or less settled.