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Mission to Apophis



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Anapa asteroid-orbiting mission

Previous chapter: Russian plans for missions to asteroids


Above: Scenario and architecture of the Anapa mission as of 2013.

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Young Russians push for an innovative asteroid mission

A new generation of space engineers in the Russian space industry has initiated the project of a low-cost asteroid mission along with an off-beat strategy to get it funded. The Anapa mission could visit an asteroid or two, possibly with the help of an informal Internet petition to the head of the Russian space agency.

The Anapa project was named after a resort town on the Black Sea where it was first presented in 2012 at a conference for young space industry professionals. The spacecraft has also an engineering name -- MKA-ERDU for "Small Electrically Propelled Spacecraft" in Russian. It was originally conceived around 2011 as an experimental lunar mission. The 300-kilogram lunar orbiter would have been loosely based on the Karat platform developed at NPO Lavochkin and successfully launched into orbit in 2012.

By 2012, the team decided to focus the Anapa mission on the near-Earth asteroid Apophis, which was once considered to be on a collision course with the Earth. More accurate predictions later virtually excluded the threat from Apophis, however near-Earth asteroids have attracted considerable attention from the scientific community and the wider public, particularly, after the near-disastrous impact of a space rock near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, 2013. Not surprisingly, soon after becoming a new head of Roskosmos in 2013, Oleg Ostapenko stressed the importance of asteroid research. Seeing the opportunity, one of the young proponents of the Anapa project started an online petition to Ostapenko to fund the Anapa mission.

According to the petition author, the trajectory for the Anapa spacecraft was charted by the leading Russian institutions in the field -- Keldysh Applied Mathematics Institute, IPM, and the Space Research Institute, IKI. The probe's scientific payload would also enable detailed remote-sensing studies of the asteroid's shape and geological composition, the document said. In addition, upon entering orbit around the asteroid, the mission would help clarify orbital parameters of the space rock. This information would enable better estimates of the asteroid's threat to the Earth and help plan defensive actions.

The petition stressed that the Anapa project would also represent a number of firsts for the Russian space program, including the first Russian or Soviet mission propelled by an electric engine and the first small-size spacecraft heading beyond the lunar orbit to study an asteroid from its vicinity. Finally, as a test of electric propulsion, the Anapa would pave the way to future Russian spacecraft designed to sport electric engines, such as IntergelioZond and the TEM space tug, the petition said.

Spacecraft design

The low-cost of the Anapa mission would be achieved by pairing the 400-kilogram probe with another, yet-to-be-identified primary payload, such as a commercial communications satellite. According to its proponents, Anapa would be two and a half times cheaper than NASA's LADEE lunar orbiter, which itself was considered a low-cost mission.

Thanks to the use of electric propulsion, the Anapa spacecraft could be dropped by the launch vehicle at one of the intermediate orbits of the primary payload. The Anapa would then propel itself toward its own destination. Despite its small size, the Anapa is believed to be capable of visiting two asteroids with a flyby of the Earth in between. In the search for the probe's main engine, engineers at NPO Lavochkin considered the SPD-100 electric thruster (also known as ion or plasma engine) which had been developed at NPO Fakel and the KM-60 engine developed at Keldysh center. The RIT-10 engine from the European firm EADS Astrium was also evaluated and found to provide the highest mass savings for the mission. (671) Along with the electric engine responsible for the main thrust during the mission, the Anapa probe would still carry gas-powered attitude control thrusters for high-precision orientation in space. They could be borrowed without many upgrades from the Karat platform.

The developers also have to make a decision about the probe's flight control system. Again, they could borrow an off-the-shelf onboard computer from the Karat, however pressure to keep the mass of the spacecraft to an absolute minimum prompted engineers to consider the much more power-efficient and slightly lighter yet practically untested computer from the Phobos-Grunt mission. Alternatively, a yet-to-developed control system for the future Luna-Glob lander remains a possibility.

On October 30, 2013, the developers of the Anapa spacecraft conducted a formal defense of the project at the TsNIIMash research institute.

Next chapter: Mission to Apophis



Mass specifications of the MKA-ERDU spacecraft and its components featuring KM-60 engine (671):

Payload mass
16.0 kilograms
Flight control system
26.5 kilograms
Communication system and antennas
7.1 kilograms
Power-supply system
54.0 kilograms
Propulsion system, including:
127.4 kilograms

• KM-60 electric engine

3.6 kilograms

• Engine gimbal mechanism

10.0 kilograms

• Control and coversion system

16.7 kilograms

• Usage control unit

0.4 kilograms

• Xenon supply system

9.7 kilograms

• Xenon tank and its mounting brackets

17.0 kilograms

• Propellant (xenon)

70.0 kilograms

Gas attitude control thrusters (12 units)

8.0 kilograms

Thermal control system (sensors, heaters, thermal insulation)

4.0 kilograms

Cable network

9.0 kilograms

Spacecraft structure

17.0 kilograms

Backup mass

15.0 kilograms

Spacecraft adapter and separation system

13.0 kilograms


297.0 kilograms



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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: November 4, 2013

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: November 4, 2013

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Exterior design of the MKA-ERDU spacecraft. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


Internal layout of the MKA-ERDU spacecraft. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


KM-60 electric engine. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak

Ion engine

A European-built ion thruster. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak