article image

Russia approves split from ISS to build new station

Anatoly Zak, Spaceflight Correspondent
Feb 26, 2015, 1:22 UTC

Sen—The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, has decided to split its newest modules from the International Space Station, ISS, to form the nation's next-generation outpost in Earth orbit in 2024.

In the meantime, the country will fully support the multinational venture, even though not for as long as the projected maximum lifespan of the ISS. (Engineers previously estimated that ISS could be certified to fly until 2028.)

Still, Russia's partners in the ISS project can breathe a sigh of relief and take some comfort that they are staying with the ISS until 2024. Last year Russian officials threatened to pull out from the ISS project as early as 2020 in the wake of the Crimean crisis and deteriorating political relations between Moscow and the West.

Russian engineers evaluated the possibility of separating various components of the Russian segment from the ISS for many years. However the idea only got a political traction last year. During 2014, Roscosmos considered whether to redirect all future Russian modules of the ISS to the new station beginning as early as 2018. Under this scenario, the future modules would be launched into an orbit incompatible with that of the ISS.

However, the latest decision by Roscosmos means that three yet-to-be completed modules would fly to the ISS first. They include the 20-ton Multi-purpose Laboratory Module (MLM); Node Module (UM), intended to serve as a hub for future components; and the Power and Science Module (NEM) carrying new-generation lab and large solar arrays to give the Russian segment a fully independent power-supply system.  

The long-term space strategy in human spacecraft extending until 2030 was a subject of discussion on Tuesday at the meeting of the Scientific and Technical Council, NTS, the main governing body within Roscosmos chaired by Yuri Koptev. 

In the official press release about the event, Roscosmos announced that Russia would continue the operation and expansion of the ISS until 2024, after which the new national orbital base would be formed with three modules of the Russian segment. The future Russian station will guarantee the access to space for the nation and serve as a basis for future human expedition to the Moon around 2030, the agency said.

The statement stressed that the Council had only approved the overall strategy and further details of the program would be worked out in the future.

"The human space flight is a part of Russia's general space strategy and today we have determined the main vector—via ISS, the development of the lunar program in the Earth orbit to deep space missions," Yuri Koptev was quoted as saying.

"The most important point right now is that Russian space industry finally reached a consensus on the future space strategy. The NTS approved key points of the strategy of the Russian space program until 2025. We took into the account possible funding changes and the program will have to be implemented with respect of the agency's overall goals, including development of the entire spacecraft fleet," Koptev said.  

In his statement after the Council meeting, Koptev also addressed a long-anticipated decision on the development of the super-heavy rocket in Russia, which was known to be on the agenda.

He said: "The issue of development of launch vehicles for sending payloads to high orbits, for exploration of the Moon and for further exploration of space, will be reviewed in detail during the next NTS meeting in March. We directed to prepare a detailed document (on the issue) taking into account overall relations within the industry."