Origin of the NEM project
The 21-ton Science and Power Module, NEM, was originally designed to join the International Space Station, ISS, but in the early 2020s, it became the founding stone of the future Russian Segment.
Isolated view of the NEM module as of 2014. Copyright © 2015 Anatoly Zak / RussianSpaceWeb.com
Known specifications of the NEM module (as of 2013):
Origin of the NEM project
From the outset of the ISS project in 1993, the Russian segment of the orbital outpost was expected to include a specialized module combining functions of a space laboratory and a power-supply station. However the original version of the vehicle, known as Science and Power Platform, NEP, stalled on the ground around 2001 due to lack of funds. As a result, Russia had to barter electricity for its segment from NASA. Only in the middle of 2000s, RKK Energia jump-started an effort to make the Russian segment independent from any external power supply.
Around 2006, it was decided to transfer most functions of the cancelled NEP platform to a pair of NEM modules, which would be attached to side ports of the yet-to-be-launched Node Module, UM. The newly developed NEM module provided much larger habitation volume than that available inside the cancelled NEP platform. In addition, the NEM modules themselves in combination with the Node Module could support a new space station, mulled at the time as a possible alternative to the ISS.
Going to Lagrange and other missions
In addition to expanding the ISS or building a new station in the orbit around the Earth, Russian developers viewed the NEM module as the basis for future Russian efforts to send humans into deep space. Thanks to its multi-function design, life support and power-supply capability, one or a whole cluster of such vehicles could provide habitation quarters and laboratories for a station at the so-called Lagrange points, which were considered as a staging ground for the exploration of the Moon, asteroids and Mars.
In case of an international agreement on the construction of a manned outpost in the Lagrange point, the NEM-based laboratory could constitute the Russian contribution into the effort. The NEM-based outpost could be serviced and staffed by the crews of US-European Orion spacecraft and by Russia's next-generation spacecraft, PTK NP.
Simularly, the NEM module, possibly in combination with other hardware, could serve as an outpost in the orbit around the Moon.
Also in 2014, plans were hatched to make the NEM-based laboratory a part of the post-ISS Russian space station, VShOS, in the high-inclination orbit.
A scale model at Moscow Air in Space Show, MAKS-2009, demonstrated a planned configuration of the ISS by 2015.
In the Spring of 2012, Russian space agency, Roskosmos, ordered a fleet of four Proton-M rockets, one of which was reserved for the launch of the NEM-1 module. According to the tender documentation, the rocket would have to be manufactured by November 25, 2014.
In October 2012, the agency also announced a tender for the 15.15-billion ruble contract covering the development of the NEM-1 module itself until the end of November 2015. Not surprisingly, on October 30, Roskosmos awarded this work to RKK Energia, despite a lower bid from Moscow-based GKNPTs Khrunichev, the manufacturer of the Proton rocket and TKS-class modules. Officially, contract No. 351-8640/12 SCh OKR: "MKS" (NEM-1) was signed on Dec. 20, 2012.
However, Roskosmos funded the development of only one NEM module. If a single NEM was attached to the Russian segment at the originally planned location, it would cause an asymmetry in the layout of the outpost, thus complicating the attitude control of the station and increasing propellant expenditure.
Also, due to its unique architecture, the NEM module could not use any of standard payload fairings protecting the cargo of Proton rockets during the initial ride through the atmosphere. To resolve the problem, from 2012 to 2014, Zhukovsky Central Aero–Hydrodynamics Institute, TsAGI, was conducting wind-tunnel testing of a custom-designed payload section for the Proton, which could accommodate the NEM module.
As of the beginning of 2014, RKK Energia was yet to resolve another critical issue of manufacturing NEM modules. In a very unusual move for the Russian rocket industry, the company announced that it would consider bids from both domestic and foreign spacecraft developers. However, during the Farnborough air show in July, the head of RKK Energia Vitaly Lopota told the Interfax news agency that according to an already approved agreement, the NEM module would be manufactured at RKTs Progress, the developer of the Soyuz family of rockets. According to Lopota, the module would be completed by the end of 2016. Also in 2013, some unidentified responsibility for the module was expected to be subcontracted to the KBKhA (KB Khimmash) rocket propulsion center in Voronezh.
Roskosmos issued a formal technical assignment for the new phase of the NEM development in July 2016. It specified the characteristics of the Proton-NEM complex, RKK, which covered all components of the joint system.
In the first half of 2016, ZAO Orbita, based in the city of Voronezh, announced that it had received a contract from RKK Energia for the development of the power distribution and control system, ARK, of the NEM module. According to the agreement, the work had to be completed by 2018.
Also, during 2016, RKK Energia conducted a number of ergonomic studies in the mockup of the module's interior, including a trial installation of the Chibis-M life-support equipment and of a panel of the control console, as well as an assessment of the coloring scheme for the module's interior.
On Oct. 27, 2016, RKK Energia announced that the pressurized compartment of the NEM module intended for static testing had been delivered from RKTs Progress in Samara to the company's facility in Korolev. The module was later to be integrated with a prototype of the unpressurized section of the NEM module and transferred to the TsNIIMash research institute for testing scheduled at the beginning of 2017, RKK Energia said.
The prototype of the NEM module for static testing was indeed shipped to TsNIIMash on Dec. 28, 2016, marking a major milestone in the project.
When the concept of the NEM-1 and NEM-2 modules first appeared in the Russian forward-looking documents, their launches were projected in 2014 and 2015, respectively, however by the start of the actual development in 2012, the launch of NEM-1 was expected no earlier than 2016. In 2013, the launch slipped to 2017.
The Russian version of the ISS schedule revealed at the beginning of 2014 indicated the launch of a single NEM module at the end of 2017. However by April 2014, the launch of NEM was not expected before the end of 2018. In the first half of 2015, the NEM mission slipped to 2019.
A station's flight manifest surfaced in April 2015 indicated the launch of the NEM module in the middle of the fourth quarter of 2019.
On Nov. 11, 2016, RKK Energia announced that it had won a contract for the development of a mobile robotic system or Kosmorobot, which would take residence on the NEM module during the period from 2020 to 2024. Equipped with multiple robotic arms, the Kosmorobot will be able to crawl along the external railings of the NEM module, carrying cargo and conducting various activities, including installing and removing equipment, connecting electric cables and inspecting the module's surface. It is also expected to be able to cut through the soft thermal layers of the modules, provide lighting, screw and unscrew connectors and take samples from the surface.
Kosmorobot will be comprised of a base module, a power battery pack, two robotic arms, an attachment fixture, TV cameras and a transmitter/receiver. The interchangeable instrument kit will include a sampling set, screwdriver, scissors, a set for electric connection, a universal grapple and a specialized grapple for external railings. Robotic arms will have seven movement axis and carry their own technical vision cameras.
Developed in cooperation with TsNII RTK and NPO Androidnaya Tekhnika, Kosmorobot will be able to assist spacewalking cosmonauts, RKK Energia said.
However, after 2016, the project has not been receiving proper funding for the full-scale development.
Key dates in the development of the NEM-1 module:
2012 March 21 - April 23: Roskosmos conducts a tender for the supply of a Proton-M rocket for the launch of the NEM-1 module.
2012 October 30: Roskosmos awards a contract for the development of the NEM-1 module to RKK Energia.
2012 December 19: RKK Energia and Roskosmos sign Contract No. 351-8324/16/341 for the development of the Proton-NEM system.
2012 December 20: RKK Energia and Roskosmos sign Contract No. 351-8640/12 for the development of the NEM-1 module.
2016 July 8: Roskosmos signs the Technical Assignment for the development of the Proton-NEM complex, RKK.
2016 October 27: A static prototype of the pressurized compartment for the NEM module arrives from Samara to Korolev for tests planned in 2017.
2016 December 18: Roskosmos approves the program of experimental testing of the NEM module, KPEO.
2016 December 28: A fully assembled static prototype of the NEM module shipped from RKK Energia to TsNIIMash for testing.
The NEM1 science and power module docks at the high-latitude space station. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2014 Anatoly Zak
A circa 2004 concept of the NEM modules was designed for launch in the cargo bay of the NASA's Space Shuttle. Credit: RKK Energia
Renderings and a 2009 scale model depicting future configuration of the International Space Station, includes a Node Module and a pair of Science and Power Modules at the heart of the Russian segment. Each of the modules in this configuration would be assembled of two parts (top). Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
A scale model depicting NEM modules as of 2010. This architecture relied on a single Proton rocket for launch. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2010 Anatoly Zak
Design of the NEM module circa 2011. Credit: RKK Energia
Design of the NEM module circa 2012. Notable are larger (three-fold) solar panels than those in the 2011 version of the design showing two-fold arrays. Credit: RKK Energia
The NEM module circa 2016. Credit: RKK Energia
A simulator of the NEM module under assembly at the trainer development contractor in Novocherkassk.
An early full-scale prototype of the interior of the NEM module in 2013. The new version of the mockup was under construction in 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Mark Serov
Aerodynamic testing at the beginning of 2014 of a custom-built payload fairing intended to protect the NEM module during launch on a Proton rocket. Credit: TsAGI
A prototype of the NEM module intended for static testing at RKK Energia in 2016. Credit: RKK Energia
A Proton rocket configured to carry NEM module. Credit: RKK Energia
A NEM module was still shown as a part of the Russian Segment of the International Space Station during the November 2018 meeting at RKK Energia chaired by Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin. Credit: RKK Energia