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ACTS interior

2005: Roots of the Russian-European cooperation in manned space flight

At the beginning of 2004, the US government announced its intention to withdraw from the International Space Station program and, instead to return American astronauts to the Moon... And it was going to do it alone. NASA's space station partners, Russia, Europe and Japan were left to decide for themselves where to go in space. Initially, Russians tried to convince Europeans to pull resources to develop a new generation reusable spacecraft, however in December 2005, European ministers told their agency to come up with a better plan.

Soyuz lunar

2006: The ACTS concept

A new plan for the Russian-European cooperation in manned space program had been conceived around spring of 2006. This time, two sides considered combining funds, hardware and expertise to parallel the US effort to return astronauts to the Moon. The idea was based on previous studies, which looked at upgrading the European ATV cargo ship with a Russian-built reentry vehicle, which would enable it to return cargo or even people to Earth.

Soyuz ACTS

2007: Initial ACTS studies

Russian and European space officials were expected to choose what they identified as an "initial preferred concept" for a future manned spacecraft, as early as May or June of 2007. However, political problems inside Russia and between two partners delayed the project. Disagreements over the direction of the Russian space program resulted in the ouster of Nikolai Sevastyanov, the head of the nation's prime contractor in the manned space flight -- RKK Energia.


2008: Deciding spacecraft architecture

The Russian-European talks resumed in September 2007. Initially, Russian and European space officials chose a bell-shaped crew module as a preferred configuration for the next-generation manned spacecraft. Resembling Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the new vehicle would be larger and heavier than its predecessor in order to accommodate from four to six people on a journey to the lunar orbit. However by the beginning of 2008, a cone-shape capsule, resembling NASA's Apollo spacecraft, had emerged a winner.


2009: Starting preliminary design of PPTS

By the beginning of 2009, upon abandoning plans for cooperation on the project with Europe, Russia's federal space agency, Roskosmos, ordered the industry to finalize proposals for the new manned spacecraft. Upon choosing a prime developer in April 2009, the agency expected the preliminary design of the vehicle to last for about a year until June 2010.


2010: Re-examining options

In January, speaking at the 34th Korolev Readings, the head of RKK Energia Vitaly Lopota said that early missions of the PTK NP spacecraft could take place from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The Ukrainian-built Zenit launcher or a similar Russian-built vehicle would be a likely candidate to carry the spacecraft, since the rocket had the payload capacity of up to 13 tons, needed to lift the future spacecraft and the Zenit had an operational launch pad in Baikonur.


2011: Technical project

Refining design of the spacecraft and its components became the main purpose of this phase of development. In addition to the work on blueprints and manufacturing of various elements for experiments, the Technical Project also included the construction of full-scale prototypes of the spacecraft.


2012: Lunar PTK NP

Anticipating the latest direction of the Russian space policy and possible budget restrictions, RKK Energia quietly dropped its plans to develop several variants of PTK NP ships that would be available to perform a variety of missions, such as servicing the space station, autonomous flights in the Earth orbit or reaching into deep-space. Instead, a single spacecraft with the primary goal of carrying crews to lunar orbit has emerged as the focus of the PTK NP project during 2012.


2013: To be or not to be

With the completion of the design, the PTK NP project reached crossroads, as the Russian government had to commit the spacecraft to metal (and real expenses), postpone it or cancel it altogether. Ironically, Russian space agency was facing this critical decision, as NASA's leadership publicly rejected a leading role for the US in any lunar-landing effort.


2014: New delays

During 2014, the development of the next-generation manned spacecraft, PTK NP, was to go from the drawing board to experimental prototypes but a virtual absence of accolades in the official Russian media about development progress could spell trouble for the project. This silence became really deafening as NASA brought a prototype of its Orion spacecraft to the launch pad in December for an unmanned test mission.


NEW, Oct. 5: 2015: Scaling down

During 2015, Russian engineers re-tailored the prospective human space flight program for lighter, cheaper rockets to reflect severe cuts in the nation's space budget in the previous year. According to current plans, the next-generation spacecraft, PTK NP, designed to replace Soyuz, could carry its first crew in 2024, followed by a manned mission into lunar orbit in 2025.


PTK-Z: Echo of Soyuz

In October 2010, Russian space agency, Roskosmos, published its requirements to the industry for the development of the Technical Project of the next-generation spacecraft, PTK NP. The document identified two versions of the spacecraft, which would be a priority for the Technical Project in the next two years. First of these two variants was a three-module PTK-Z spacecraft. It was designed for long-duration autonomous missions in the Earth orbit, while a two-module PTK-S variant was intended to service the Earth-orbiting station, such as ISS.


Crew module, VA

After several years of early research, engineers at RKK Energia defined the over structural design of the crew module during the preliminary development of the PTK NP project in 2010. The conical structure of the module was subdivided into the command compartment, KO, and the aggregate compartment, AO. In turn, command compartment would be split into a pressurized cabin and the unpressurized upper transfer section.


Rocket-powered landing system, PTDU

A defining feature of Russia's new-generation PPTS spacecraft would be its landing system. Due to the political requirement to land future manned missions in Russia, while the spacecraft would barely overfly south of the country, a lot of maneuverability was required from the descent module. At the same time, tough deadlines imposed for the development of the vehicle and limited funds, did not leave time for radically innovative solutions.


Landing gear, PU

A defining feature of Russia's new-generation PPTS spacecraft would be its landing system. Due to the political requirement to land future manned missions in Russia, while the spacecraft would barely overfly south of the country, a lot of maneuverability was required from the descent module. At the same time, tough deadlines imposed for the development of the vehicle and limited funds, did not leave time for radically innovative solutions.

docking port

NEW, Oct. 27: Docking port

Unlike the Soyuz, where the docking port is discarded and burns up in the atmosphere along with the habitation module of the spacecraft at the end of each mission, the new-generation PTK spacecraft will carry its docking mechanism on the descent vehicle, VA, which was designed for at least 10 flights.


Cheget chair: One size fits all

Russia's veteran Soyuz spacecraft was equipped with Kazbek cosmonaut chairs. Each Kazbek required a custom-made seat liners uniquely molded to the body size of each individual cosmonaut. The manufacturing of seat liners required a great deal of time and effort, adding to the cost and complexity of Soyuz missions. Not surprisingly, developers of PTK NP hoped to do away with custom-built components, replacing them with a reusable seat that could be adjusted to any member of the cosmonaut corps, a foreign astronaut or a space tourist.


Rus-M: A new rocket for a new ship

One of the challenges Russian designers faced in developing the next-generation spacecraft in the first decade of the 21st century was the need for a new rocket to launch it. Since the future ship replacing Soyuz would have to carry six instead of three crew members and weigh from 12 to 23 tons, it would need much larger launch vehicle than existing Soyuz rocket capable of carrying just seven tons to the low-Earth orbit.


From Rus-M to Angara-5P

The Angara's role as a carrier of manned spacecraft finally become official, after funding foes had killed the development of the competing Rus-M rocket in 2011. By that time, the Russian government had already launched the construction of a new cosmodrome in the Russian Far East and the Angara-5 rocket was promised a launch pad there.


Sodruzhestvo launch vehicle

With the decision of the Russian space agency in 2012 to give priority to lunar missions, a super-heavy launch vehicle would be needed to carry PTK NP into deep space. In response, RKK Energia, revived its proposal for a heavy-lifting launch vehicle that would be developed jointly by several former republics of the Soviet Union. The new rocket would replace Rus-M as the launch vehicle for the next-generation spacecraft.


A candidate from Samara

By April 2013, TsSKB Progress had also drafted a whole new family of heavy launchers with payloads ranging from 85 to an unprecedented 190 tons delivered to low Earth orbit. At the smaller end of the family, there was a "man-rated" rocket designed to launch a next-generation spacecraft, PTK NP, beyond low Earth orbit carrying a crew of four.


Echo of Energia

In August 2013, RKK Energia confirmed that it was participating in preliminary studies of a super-heavy launcher conducted within the industry. During 2013, the company conceptualized a four-stage vehicle capable of delivering around 79 tons to the low Earth orbit.



In 2015, Roskosmos initiated work on the Angara-5V rocket and its possible adaptation for prospective transport and manned ships as well as other payloads for missions to the vicinity of the Moon and expeditions to its surface.


Test flight program

By 2013, various sources enabled to compile an emerging picture of the flight test program aimed to validate the PTK NP spacecraft for manned missions. All these initial test flights were expected to originate in Baikonur. It is logical to assume that the switch of the PTK NP spacecraft to the Angara-5-derived launch vehicle based in Vostochny would require additional unmanned launches into low Earth orbit.


A test mission behind the Moon

According to a flight scenario evaluated in 2013, a Proton rocket would launch a Block DM space tug into the low Earth orbit. The second Proton would launch an unmanned test version of the PTK NP spacecraft. The two vehicles would then rendezvous and dock in orbit. The Block DM upper stage would then fire its engine sending the spacecraft toward the Moon. During the mission, Russian flight controllers would test all the communications and flight control modes necessary for guiding future manned expeditions to the lunar orbit.


OPSEK: New-generation space station

In 2009, Russian and European space officials started consultations on possible goals for the manned space flight after the end of the International Space Station, ISS, project. At the forefront of the talks were Russian plans to replace the ISS with a new manned outpost in the low-Earth orbit in 2020-2025. However unlike the ISS, which was designed to serve primarily as a research lab, the new station was conceived as an assembly point for missions to the Moon and Mars.


LOS: Lunar Orbital Station

By April 2012, the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, proclaimed a lunar orbit as the main destination of the PTK NP spacecraft. The agency asked engineers to design a vehicle capable of rendezvous and docking with the lunar orbital station, where the crew could transfer to a waiting lander for a final leg of its journey to the Moon.


Lagrangian points

In the absence of a bold commitment to go to the Moon, Mars or asteroids, space planners in the US and Russia considered sending missions to the so-called Lagrange points, which could serve as staging hubs for deep-space exploration, if such projects ever became affordable.