Russian space program in 2007
Pushing brakes on lunar plans?
Published: 2007 Jan. 17
Russian space agency, Roskosmos, poured cold shower on the lunar dreams of its main contractor in the manned space flight Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007, as the agency itself struggled to formulate its space policy in the next decade. In the unusual statement entitled "On the Episodes of Lunatism," Roskosmos publicly reprimanded the head of RKK Energia, Nikolai Sevastyanov for advertising his concept of lunar exploration as it was approved by the federal government.
"It is regrettable that the head of the flagship of the national manned space program presents untried technical ideas, far removed from approved engineering decisions and technologies, as they were the direction, which the federal government had taken in the national space policy," Roskosmos said.
Since its appointment as the head of RKK Energia in 2005, Sevastyanov made a number of optimistic statements in the press about the possibility of sending Russian cosmonauts to the Moon and even establishing a permanent lunar base there. He advertised the lunar settlement as a possible mining site for Helium-3, an exotic chemical, which could power thermonuclear reactors on Earth – a far-fetched and very controversial concept itself.
"Roskosmos, along with other interested organizations and institutions works on determining strategy for the development of the national space program, including manned space flight. However it is too early to talk about the existence of national decisions on the exploration of the Moon and other planets," the agency’s statement concluded.
Although RKK Energia’s compaign promoting lunar exploration generated considerable publicity in the Russian press and abroad, Russian space agency provided no money for the effort, and repeatedly said it could not afford to do so in the near future. At the end of 2005, RKK Energia also suffered a major setback on the international stage, when the European Union refused to join the development of the Kliper mini-shuttle, which RKK Energia considered to be the first step in the creation of a transport system from the Earth to the Moon.
Instead, in the summer of 2006, European and Russian space agencies agreed to consider upgrading the veteran Soyuz spacecraft, (also built by RKK Energia) for possible missions around the Moon. However there was little public information available on the state of the project since then, and many observers criticized Roskosmos for the lack of vision.
In the meantime, across the Atlantic, NASA’s own lunar plans, which is believed to be exerting considerable influence on space programs in Russia and Europe, faced a new series of budgetary hurdles. Such climate was hardly encouraging for Roskosmos to make ambitious declarations about its goals in space.
Russian space agency's irritation with the "free-thinking" leadership at RKK Energia could also come from the agency’s perceived image crisis. Unlike NASA, Roskosmos has no extensive network of field centers, which manage space projects and conduct extensive research and development work. Instead, Russian space agency relies in all its practical work on industrial conglomerates, like RKK Energia, which often see the agency as nothing more than a bureaucracy distributing government money. Not surprisingly, Russian space industry sometimes appeals directly to the government and general public, bypassing its parent agency’s clumsy public relations apparatus.
2007: Year of Chinese Killer Satellite
Published: 2007 Jan. 20
China started its own year in space in 2007, demonstrating an impressive capability to shut down enemy satellites in space. According to the Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, quoting US officials, the anti-satellite missile lifted off from the Xichang site on January 11, 2007, lofting a "kill vehicle," which then directly impacted and destroyed a functioning Chinese satellite.
It was apparently a fourth launch of the system and its first success, giving China the capability, which only the US and the Soviet Union demonstrated at the height of the Cold War. It was also a poke in the eye of the US military space doctrine, which was released in August 2006 and which confidently stated that the Pentagon asserts a right to "…freedom of action in space, " and promised to "…deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so."
As Western media focused on Washington, looking for the reaction to the Chinese challenge, there was another place where the cloud of debris from the destroyed satellite likely produced quite a fallout. One can only imagine a meeting in Kremlin, where Russian military space officials asked Vladimir Putin to increase their share of country’s oil dollars, which they could invest into the national anti-satellite system.
The official Russian reaction to the news was mixed and ranged from skepticism that the test ever took place expressed by Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov on one side and the claim that the Chinese anti-satellite was based on the Soviet IS system, at least according to a retired Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, the former head of the Russian Defense Ministry's international military cooperation department.
However what is certain is Russia’s own capabilities to build and deploy anti-satellite weapons. With China emerging as a military space power, the White House threatening to "deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests," and the Russian military budget ballooning during the past few years, it is just logical for the Kremlin to renew its interest in "killer satellites."
ORBITAL LAUNCH ATTEMPTS IN 2007:
The 2007 space launch score card:
Delayed from the end of second quarter: A Zenit-3SLB to launch PAS-11 (Star-2) for PanAmSat from Baikonur. (Contract announced on July 28, 2005). Switched to the Ariane-5 rocket and successfully launched in 2007.
In 2006, Russia and Europe made the Soyuz ACTS concept the focus of future cooperative plans in the manned space program. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak
The IS interceptor dives toward its target in this artist rendering. At least one Russian official said the Chinese killer satellite is based on the IS vehicle. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
India came closer to launching its man in space, with a successful test flight of a retrievable capsule in January 2007. Credit: ISRO
A spectacular explosion of the Zenit-3SL rocket on the launch pad in the Pacific Ocean concluded dramatic developments in space in January 2007. Credit: Sea Launch
Reminicent of the Space Race era, breathtaking views of the Earth from the Moon came in 2007 from Japan's Kaguya spacecraft. They became the most vivid symbol of the coming rennaissance in lunar exploration and the best reminder of the new players in the 21st century space program. Credit: JAXA
China flexed its muscles in space, announcing ambitious plans to build a heavy-lift Chang Zheng 5 rocket by 2013. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak