2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
The head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin said that Russia will not participate in the American project of the lunar station if it is not offered the status of an equal partner. Alternatively, he named a joint lunar station with the BRICS countries or a fully sovereign project. Cosmonautics popularizer Vitaly Egorov explains what exactly was offered to Russia, and what we lose if we refuse.
The International Space Station will shut down in 2024. Perhaps this period will be extended - but no more than a few years. Over the past decade, space agencies of different countries have been discussing options - what will be the manned astronautics after the ISS. Most often, the idea sounded to create a new station, but already outside of low-earth orbit - at one of the Lagrange points or in a circumlunar orbit.
About two years ago, the appearance of the future successor to the ISS crystallized in the form in which it is being discussed now - NASA came to the conclusion that it should be a small visited station at the L2 Lagrange point of the Moon-Earth system, behind the Moon. This project, called Deep Space Gateway, and later Lunar Orbiting Platform - Gateway (LOP-G) NASA, is being discussed with Roscosmos.
It should be noted that not everyone is sure of the advisability of creating a lunar orbital station. For example, engineer Robert Zubrin, creator of the Mars Direct project, believes that neither in the scientific nor in the technological sense, the lunar station gives nothing - this is a step in place. Almost everything that can be done at this station can be done without it, having the ISS and manned spacecraft.
However, the lunar station is primarily a political project, like the previous lunar program. Its meaning is to preserve manned space exploration, to increase the technological and human capital that has been created over the years of the ISS operation. A full-scale Martian project is now beyond the power of either NASA or anyone else, and a circumlunar station is the easiest option to still take a step outside the Earth's orbit. Simple in terms of technology, in terms of finance. It is clear to everyone that we need to move on, and this station is the easiest and cheapest way to do it.
And for Russia this is almost the only chance to preserve manned space exploration after the completion of the ISS program. The United States immediately offered Russia to participate in this project, although even then it was clear that Russia was not viewed as an equal participant in this project, which could do half of it - its own segment. Initially, it was assumed that Russia will make only one small module - a gateway. At the same time, America expressed its readiness to cooperate, to the extent that it offered to bring Russian cosmonauts in its Orion (which should fly in the 2020s) as part of the American crew, so that they, at least, start connecting this module.
However, a year ago, the Russian side began to insist on repeating the experience of the ISS, when Russian modules were created according to Russian standards, and American ones - according to American standards. The fact is that the International Space Station is "sewn together" of two halves - Russian and American, which are very different - up to the fact that the voltage in the Russian segment is 28 volts, and in the American segment - 120, which creates a lot of technical difficulties.
America demands that Russia make modules according to American standards. Naturally, Russian partners are not interested in this, because, firstly, they do not want to adapt to others, and secondly, there is simply no money to adapt all technologies to American standards.
Russia, or rather RSC Energia, which would make this module, wants to do what it did before for Soviet stations, for the ISS, without any additional investment.
When it became clear that America was not ready to include "Soviet" modules in the new station, the Russian side proposed switching to a customer-contractor relationship, that is, NASA had to pay for the module. And this was not very interesting for America.
And all this is superimposed on political contradictions. At the time of Komarov, Roskosmos was, after all, a business organization, it had an approach aimed at maintaining the economic stability of the industry. If it was possible to make money on this project, he would go for it. But the head of Roscosmos has changed, and the new head, Rogozin, is a politician, he considers space exploration as a political instrument.
From his point of view, participation in the American project is unacceptable for Russia. For reasons of national prestige, he denies Russian cosmonautics the only possible direction of development in the manned direction.
The alternatives he talks about are unrealistic. They talked about the BRICS station three years ago, and it was about a joint near-earth station. But the BRICS countries showed no interest in these discussions either then or now. India and China have their own interests in space, in many respects competing, and it is unlikely that they will find any project in which they want to participate together - even with Russia. Moreover, Russia hopes that foreign money and Russian technologies will participate in this project, while China and India are not interested in giving money just like that, they expect to get these technologies. Roscosmos would like it to be a sale of services, while India and China may only be interested in selling technologies. But even in this they did not show much interest, therefore the hypothetical near-moon station BRICS is in no way an alternative and replacement for the American one, because the American one is much more real, although it still remains on paper and in conversations.
In fact, Rogozin, for the sake of a political moment, replaces the only real prospect for the development of domestic cosmonautics in tandem with the American one aimed at the moon with a certain myth about the BRICS near-lunar station.
And we do not touch on the question of whether Roskosmos in the current state is capable of creating not only the lunar, but also a near-earth station - keeping in mind the situation with the "Science" module, which has not been able to send to the ISS for 10 years, with the NEM module which was due to fly in 2014 and is continually being postponed. And in this situation, it is very unlikely that Russia is able to implement an independent project, even jointly with China or India.
However, the American lunar station is not yet in the implementation stage, it does not have a line in the budget, NASA is still waiting for proposals from states and companies that would be ready to participate in this project. I hope common sense will prevail and Russia will not give up this unique opportunity.