Still aiming for the Moon
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 those plans, the next-generation spacecraft, PTK NP, designed to replace Soyuz, could carry its first crew in 2023, followed by a manned mission into lunar orbit around 2027.
The decision of the new leadership at Roskosmos at the beginning of 2015 to put off the development of the super-heavy Moon rocket beyond 2025 required finding the new launch vehicle for the new-generation spacecraft. Since the agency simultaneously endorsed upgrading the medium-class Angara-5 rocket into an Angara-A5V (or Angara-5V for short) variant, engineers at RKK Energia, the PTK NP developer, attempted to fit the spacecraft and its missions into this much smaller rocket. The Angara would have no problem to insert the PTK NP into the low Earth orbit, however an orbital assembly would be required for practically any deep-space mission, which has been proclaimed as the main purpose of the PTK NP project.
With a projected payload capacity of 37.5 tons, it would take a pair of Angara-5V launchers to place the PTK NP into an orbit around the Moon or into the Earth-Moon Lagrangian points. Even more problematic, four such rockets would be needed to support an expedition to the surface of the Moon. For comparison, NASA intended to rely on a single SLS super-heavy launcher to insert its Orion vehicle into the lunar orbit.
Under most optimistic scenarios in the Russia's long-term space strategy, the circumlunar mission based on Angara-5V vehicles could be accomplished around 2025 and the lunar landing around 2029.
On April 22, Yuri Koptev, the head of Scientific and Technical Council at Roskosmos, said that the preliminary proposal for the Angara-5V rocket would be ready by the end of the year. In turn, the head of RKK Energia Vladimir Solntsev was quoted as saying that his company would complete a preliminary proposal for the integration of the PTK NP spacecraft with the Angara-5V within six months. (745) According to the head of Roskosmos Igor Komarov, Angara-5V would be developed in cooperation between GKNPTs Khrunichev in Moscow, TsSKB Progress in Samara and RKK Energia in Korolev.
On April 30, Roskosmos issued a directive to GKNPTs Khrunichev, the Angara developer, to prepare a technical proposal to accommodate the man-rated Angara-5V vehicle within the Amur launch complex, which had been under development for Angara-5 and Angara-5P rockets since October 2013 at Russia's new space port in Vostochny. The detailed proposal to add Angara-5V into the mix would have to be ready by November 2015. According to the plan, launch pad No. 2 of the two-pad facility for Angara in Vostochny would be customized to host Angara-5V and manned versions of the PTK spacecraft. This single pad would be equipped with all the necessary bridges and elevators for the crew to board the descent module at the top of the rocket and also to evacuate the cockpit and the launch tower in emergency.
To support orbital assembly, the launch complex would have to be able to support launches of two Angara-5V rockets within three days from each other.
Technical developments and schedules
As in the several previous years, Roskosmos was largely mum about the progress in the development and testing of the PTK NP spacecraft. It is known that RKK Energia started the year hoping to win the agency's contract, which would see the PTK NP project through its first unmanned test launch in 2021. RKK Energia also announced that it had planned to begin issuing working and design documentation for the spacecraft and manufacture prototypes and flight-worthy hardware for the project.
In April, RKK Energia confirmed that the crew cabin for the PTK NP would be made of a composite material replacing the 1570C aluminum alloy to save mass. The move was apparently a part of weight-cutting measures demanded by Roskosmos, in order to fit the PTK NP into the Angara-5V rocket. By the end of 2015, the proposed Angara-5V was apparently 1.8 tons short of carrying the PTK spacecraft with its MOB-DM stage. At the same time, the rocket would also need extra 2.2 tons of payload in order to lift the LVPK lunar module along with its own MOB-DM space tug. The fulfil this mission, the rocket's total payload would have to be brought to 39.8 tons.
At the Moscow Air and Space Show in August 2015, RKK Energia demonstrated an updated mockup of the descent module and a full-scale prototype of the crew cabin made of composite materials. As it turned out, the composite structure had been manufactured at Nanotec-Industries GmBH, in Germany, even though RKK Energia officials had previously pledged to keep the design free of foreign components in the face of Western sanctions.
Two other prototypes of the spacecraft for certification and flight tests were promised in 2016, but little is known about the current status of this work or the flight test program.
During the Moscow Air Show, the head of RKK Energia Vladimir Solntsev promised the first flying prototype of the PTK by 2019. He did not provide many details on the flight test program, but hinted that an effort had been made to advance the first unmanned test launch from 2021. At the same time, various official statements made in the course of 2015 indicated that the first manned mission of the PTK spacecraft to the International Space Station, ISS, apparently slipped from 2023 to 2024.
At the beginning of June, the head of Roskosmos Igor Komarov told members of the Duma (parliament) that the PTK NP would make its first trip to the ISS in 2023, but, later during the year, officials started quoting 2024 as the launch date for that mission. The switch from metal to composite materials was cited as one of the reasons for the delay in the project, however other factors had also been likely at play.
On August 26, Roskosmos announced a contest for a new name for the spacecraft, which included a public poll coducted from December 4 to December 23. The results approved by a jury chaired by the head of Roskosmos Igor Komarov were announced on January 15, 2016. The new ship would be named Federatsiya, a Russian word for "federation." Referring to the political structure of the Russian state, the name continued a tradition of the Soyuz spacecraft, whose name meant "union," reflecting the official name of the Soviet state -- the Soviet Union. Runner-up names in the contest, such as Gagarin and Vektor, were reserved for future space projects, the agency's announcement said.
The public reaction on social media was very mixed: critics noted that the name is long, phonetically unpleasant and has a good chance of being abbreviated to something unceremonious like "Fed." In addition, the name could present a potential minefield of various negative political connotations coming from the technical context, such as separation, delays and other problems.
Flight manifest for the manned lunar program circa first half of 2015:
PTK NP flight milestones as of May 2015:
Read much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:
A fragment from an animation of the Angara-5V ascent at the separation of first stage boosters. Click to play. Copyright © 2015 Anatoly Zak
A MOB KVTK space tug performs trans-lunar injection maneuver, TLI, after its docking with the PTK NP spacecraft in the Earth's orbit. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2016 Anatoly Zak
PTK NP spacecraft would dock with lunar module in orbit around the Moon. Two crew members would then transfer into the lander for the final leg of the trip to the Moon. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2016 Anatoly Zak
A lunar lander conceptualized during 2015 to be compatible with the Angara-5V rocket. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2016 Anatoly Zak
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (left) and Roskosmos head Igor Komarov (center) demonstrate to President Putin scale models of the Angara-5 and 5V (right) rockets and the descent module of the next-generation manned spacecraft, PTK NP, on April 13, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian government
Cosmonaut and test engineer Mark Serov demonstrates the movable flight control console inside the crew module of the PTK NP spacecraft during a visit by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to RKK Energia's test and checkout facility, KIS, in Korolev on April 13, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian government
The crew section made of composite material (left) and the mockup of the Descent Module, VA, for the PTK NP spacecraft at Moscow air and space show in August. Two avionics systems and a docking port were also displayed. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian government