Friday, May 22, 2009

Russia saving its modules of the ISS

Russia intends to break off and fly its parts to the International Space Station in time to de-orbit the rest of the outpost.

Industry officials told BBC News of plans to maintain the Russian ISS flight modules around a decade.

ISS partners are optimistic they will be able to extend the financing of the project beyond the current 2015 deadline.

But most observers agree that most of the International Space Station, will be abandoned by 2020.

According to plans, the other Russian module will be at the heart of a new orbital outpost, which will serve as a refuge and assembly shop for deep space missions toward the Moon, Mars and beyond.

To facilitate the plan of RKK Energia, the main contractor ISS, has already begun to develop a module node in the Russian segment, which will double as a cornerstone of the future station.

A balloon-shaped compartment with docking ports six sides will allow the future antenna remain indefinitely in space, with only elements that were replaced as needed. The current architecture of the International Space Station allows the replacement of some of its main modules virtually impossible.

Unlike many European and NASA officials, Russian engineers believe that even after two decades in orbit, their modules would be in pretty good shape to form the basis of a new space station.

"We have flown on Mir for 15 years and has accumulated enormous experience in extending the life (of a vehicle)," said a senior Russian RKK Energia, the Russian master of the ISS.

"I see no problems, with the exception of penetration of the module of the skin by a meteorite. (The vehicle) can fly twenty or thirty years and if we do not have a direct hit, we can replace virtually every internal component. We learned a lesson Mir that everything that can fail in this period of time can be replaced. "

However, the idea of transforming the Russian segment of the ISS in an independent space station major political, legal and financial traps, Russian officials admitted.

"I can tell you that it is technically possible to separate the Russian segment (the ISS) and to travel without, however (in this case), there are a number of issues with ... end of the station of life, "a Russian space official told BBC News.

Given that the Russians want to steal the key service module away with the rest of its segments, the other parts of the station will be left without means of propulsion. They are required to maintain the station's orbit and plunge into Earth's atmosphere on a security zone.

According to Russian sources, they have actively discussed their intentions with U.S. partners. But so far failed to find a satisfactory solution.

"Our position is that the main integrator of the station (NASA) is responsible for a civilization at the end of the flight after the conclusion of the mission," said a Russian official.

"They (the Americans) said they understood the question, but does not go beyond."

To solve the problem, Russian space officials are considering the construction of ATV spacecraft, whose propulsion system is powerful enough to guide the station to a controlled destruction. But now, the vehicle can not dock with the Russian segment, and would require significant changes to the implementation of the new plan.

New targets

Manuel Valls, head of policy and plans for human spaceflight and exploration of the direction of the European Space Agency (Esa) told BBC News that the agency has conducted preliminary studies of the docking ATV to the U.S. segment of the station.

However Esa was primarily focused on reaching an early agreement with its partners on the financing of the station, at least until 2020.

"If and when the ISS will be orbited, which is, again, very unlikely to happen before 2020, then the right vehicle to do the job would be the ATV," said Valls.

"However, in 2020, we will also HTV (Japanese cargo vehicle to dock with the United States segment) and probably American vehicles, which could be used. It is more than 10 years from now, everything can happen. "

Although the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has announced its first success with the ISS with its own space station, almost a decade ago, several recent events put it at the forefront of the country's long-term space strategy.

In 2004, the U.S. government took the decision to abandon the ISS in the middle of the next decade, and directing the funds available to NASA objectives of lunar exploration.

Currently, the U.S. space agency plans to end its participation in the ISS by 2015, exactly when the last Russian modules of the station is scheduled to reach the launch pad.

Last year, Roscosmos and Esa failed to reach agreement on a cooperation project to develop a new generation of manned spacecraft.

Meanwhile, the Russian government has committed to the independent development of a new crew spacecraft. The ultimate objectives of this ship would be the future of the Moon or even support for a shipment of flights to Mars.

With the launch of the new optimism Russian spacecraft set for 2018, it would probably be the launch pad when NASA ended its support for the ISS.

Unlike the ISS, which was announced first and foremost as a platform for scientific research, the future of the Russian space station, called Orbital Piloted Complex Assembly and Experiment (OPSEK) would have the main objective to support the exploration of deep space.

Behind the scenes, the Russian engineers have developed ambitious plans for orbital stations around the Earth and Moon, and possibly in the orbit of Mars. These will be bound by reusable tugs, shuttling between them continues to support the sustained exploration of the solar system.

After separation from the rest of the ISS, the station 20-ton service module might be replaced by a 40-tonne of life launched by a new family of launchers.

In turn, this module could ultimately serve as a construction site and a Mars expedition complex, which could be assembled in orbit around the Earth at mid 2030 for the first humans on the planet red.