The plans to revise the Russian space program, first announced in late 2011, have been further refined this year all because of another in a recent row of launch failures. On August 6, two communications satellites (Express-MD2 and Telkom-3) found themselves stranded in low orbit due to a malfunction of the Proton-M launch vehicle’s Briz-M third stage. The incident proved the last straw for the country’s leadership, which then demanded an overhaul of the Russian space program.
In August and September this year, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev held special government sessions to tackle the systemic crisis in the space industry. The measures outlined by the government include retooling; increased productivity; and ensuring Russia’s global competitiveness on the space services market.
One of the crucial issues requiring immediate attention is the selection of the right technical strategy for further development of the industry. In the autumn of 2011, Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) head Vladimir Popovkin named the following space program priorities: applied programs, scientific research, manned space exploration, and the development of new launch vehicles. The same set of objectives was included in the draft strategy to develop Russia’s space activity through to 2030 and beyond (Strategy 2030), which was submitted to the government in March 2012.
In keeping with these priorities, the first objective is to ensure an increase in the quality and size of the national satellite constellation. By the year 2030, the number of Russian satellites in orbit is planned to have grown by over 100%, reaching 188 from the current 71. The comsat constellation should reach 53 units by the year 2020, and 77 to 2030. The number of Earth remote sensing satellites is to grow to 27 by 2020, and to 34 by 2030; that of navigation satellites to 30 and 36, respectively. The Glonass global positioning system is to become equal to GPS in accuracy and other parameters. "In the next 20 years we must make headway in such new technologies as millimeter radio waves and beam antennas," Popovkin noted.
The Russian space program reached an important milestone on July 22, 2012 with the launch of the Canopus-B and BKA Earth remote sensing satellites in the interests of Russia and Belarus. Russia is planning to orbit its new, high-performance Resurs-P satellite on November 30 this year. This spacecraft is on a par with foreign equivalents in terms of accuracy, productivity and spatial resolution, and only yields to them in size and weight. In late 2012 or early 2013, Russia should launch a new-generation Persona military satellite. A Kondor-E radar satellite is to be launched before year-end.
The civilian and military remote-sensing spacecraft to be launched in 2013 include Meteor-M, Baumanets-2, totos-S1, Bars, Kobalt-M, Musson-2, and Canopus-ST. In 2014, these will be joined in orbit by Meteor-M, Elektro-L, Kobalt-M, and Canopus-B. The 2015 launch plan includes Meteor-M, Elektro-L, Musson-2, and Elektro-VO. Another Meteor-M and a further Elektro-VO will be launched in 2016, to be followed by Elektro-M in 2017.
The number of scientific satellites in orbit is to increase significantly. This process started with the launching of the Zond-PP spacecraft launched along with the Canopus-V and BKA satellites. Developed by Lavochkin NPO from the new non-pressurized Karat platform, it is intended to study the Earth surface. Similar spacecraft to be launched shortly include the Relec satellite for the investigation of relativistic electron events and transient atmospheric processes. The Strannik satellite will conduct plasma research; the Arka orbital solar observatory will conduct precision observations of the Solar corona. All these spacecraft are to be orbited by 2015.
VNIIEM Corporation and Moscow State University have used the Canopus-B platform to develop their Lomonosov satellite, to be launched in the spring of 2013 for the study of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays.
The Resonance project that involves the study of the near-Earth space, envisages the launching in 2014 and 2015 of two pairs of satellites, each to monitor one flux tube in the terrestrial magnetosphere.
Scientific missions are not restricted to near-Earth space. Russia continues to plot unmanned interplanetary missions to the Moon and planets of the Solar system, as well as to outer regions of the space.
In 2015, in the framework of the Luna-Glob exploration program, a probe is to land on the Moon to search for water ice. The project will continue through 2016 with the placing of an automatic station in the Moon’s orbit. The year 2017 will see the beginning of the Luna-Resurs project in the form of a Russian-Indian automatic mission to land a probe on the Moon’s south pole. Phase two of the same experiment envisages the return of lunar soil samples to Earth in 2019.
Russia will participate in the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission to search for possible biosignatures of Martian life. The program will involve a Mars orbiter, an entry, descent, and landing demonstrator module (EDM), and a Martian rover, and is aimed at investigating the planet’s subsurface and search for traces of life. In the first phase of the program, to start in 2016, the orbiter and EDM will be launched towards Mars. Russia’s participation in this phase will be restricted to the provision of a Proton-M launch vehicle and ground communications stations. The second phase, to begin in 2018, will see the mainly Russian-built rover sent to Mars.
In 2020, Russia will launch the Venera-D probe towards Venus. The probe will include an orbiter, a lander, and one or two atmospheric balloons.
In 2021, in the framework of the project to reduce the comet and asteroid threat to the Earth, the Apophis probe may be sent towards the near-Earth asteroid of the same name to confirm its orbit and study its surface.
In 2022, the Laplace-P mission (also known as the Europa Lander mission) will send a spacecraft towards Jupiter to study the giant planet’s satellites and land on one of them. The project is expected to be implemented jointly with the ESA.
Around 2030, Russia is planning to send an automatic station to Mercury. Earlier plans call for a joint Mercurian mission with ESA as part of the BepiColombo project, to launch in 2015 with Russian instruments installed on the European probe.
The study of the interactions between the Sun and the Earth, first started in Russia back in the Soviet times, will be continued in the framework of the Interhelio-Zond project, a part of NASA’s Living with a Star international program. The Interhelio-Zond observatory is set to be launched in 2017. In 2020, Russia will train the instruments of its Polar-Ecliptic Patrol probes on the Sun. Two spacecraft will be inserted into inclined heliocentric orbit with a radius of about 0.5 A.U. in order to continuously monitor the Sun-Earth line, conduct regular observations of the Sun within and outside the ecliptic plane, and study the Sun’s polar regions.
The plans related to Russia’s manned spaceflight have to do primarily with further operation of the ISS, and also with the development of the Prospective Piloted Transport System project. The spacecraft is still under development, its future largely depending on future budget subsidies. It is not clear where Russian cosmonauts are going to take the new system, either. The Strategy 2030 envisages missions towards the Moon with possible landings on Lunar surface, but no specific decisions have yet been made. Furthermore, most experts believe that no nation, however technically advanced, can possibly venture a large-scaled manned Moon exploration effort single-handedly. An international Lunar project, on the other hand, would require protracted negotiations between all the parties involved. So far it is known that NASA and Roscosmos are in talks over the possibility of setting up a habitable space station in the L2 Lagrangian point over the Moon’s far side.