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Zarya FGB control module

Zarya ("Dawn" or "Sunrise") Control Module, also known as FGB, which stands for Russian abbreviation of Functional Cargo Block, became the first element of the International Space Station to be launched in November 1998. The original concept of the module was proposed by Moscow-based Khrunichev enterprise. The Zarya FGB derived from the TKS spacecraft originally developed for the canceled project of the Almaz military orbital station.

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Technical specifications of the FGB module:

Gross launch mass 24,100 kilograms
Mass in orbit 20,040 kilograms
Orbit inclination 51.6 degrees
Reference orbital altitude 350 x 180 kilometers
Docking orbit altitude 350 kilometers
Final orbit 410-450 kilometers
Operational lifespan No less than 15 years
Propellant mass for orbit insertion and the operational lifespan Up to 100 tons
Daily power supply (28 V) to the US segment of ISS prior to service module arrival 0.8 kW
Daily power supply to the US segment of ISS after service module arrival 1.2 kW (up to 2 kW)
Cargo storage volume 6.7 cubic meters
Number of refueling cycles Up to 30

Birth of the FGB space tug

With the end of the Cold War in 1989, defense industries on both sides of the Atlantic faced a new climate. Gone were grandiose development projects and large-scale, generation-long production contracts. However, unlike the US, where the federal government actively helped in restructuring of the aerospace industry, many Russian space firms often had to take a lot of initiative, if they wanted to stay in business. Perhaps no other Russian space company had adapted better to the post-Soviet change than Moscow-based Khrunichev enterprise. Capitalizing on its rich legacy of building venerable Proton rockets, Khrunichev pushed aggressively into the lucrative business of commercial space launches. In the meantime, the prospects for international cooperation in manned space flight arose at the beginning of the 1990s. Although Khrunichev had often played a second fiddle to Korolev's RKK Energia in the field of manned space flight, the company's leaders had a number of aces up their vest.

The first contacts between US and Russian space officials in 1993 discussing possible merger of Mir-2 and Freedom space stations apparently did not involve officials from Khrunichev. (Although Polukhin, the head of KB Salyut, (development arm at Khrunichev) participated in the April 1993 meeting with the Freedom redesign team.)

Three people from Khrunichev, (Gorodnichev) and KB Salyut (Karrask, Shaevich) were a part of the large group of experts from the Russian Space Agency, RKA, visiting the US in July – August 1993. The meetings took place in Crystal City, on the Potomac River in Washington D.C. Ironically, the Russian specialists found themselves living in the hotel right across from the Pentagon.

"It was difficult to cross all the barriers, the mentality had to be changed from confrontation to cooperation, however, the goal was to preserve the industry, and as you see it today, the industry was saved," Shaevich remembered. "Koptev did not have any opponents, the Russian Space Agency was just formed and everybody was oriented toward the same goal: to save the industry… of course we should give some credit to Yuri Koptev, who actually predicted this kind of situation and went forward with all these contacts."

Two sides discussed an array of options for integration of the Russian hardware into the Freedom project. "The discussions were very heated," Shaevich remembers. The Russian side put a price tag for its services to NASA at about $600 million (over next four years). One of the topics of discussions was an attempt by the Russian delegation to obtain funds to finish the construction of the Mir space station.

Two remaining Mir modules were under construction; a considerable amount of work remained to be done; however it was virtually impossible to finish them due to dwindling Russian funding. As a result, the Mir-NASA contract had articles about the use of two remaining modules with the US and European equipment, because there was no Russian payloads at this point.

At the time of the first meetings in Crystal City, the Khrunichev’s role was limited to a discussion of a possible role for the Proton rocket in the transport operations of the Freedom project. However, during the meetings, Shaevich and his team also proposed the use of the TKS spacecraft for the station supply role. Khrunichev team argued that the future station would be too large to be supplied by the small Progress ships and bigger TKS-derived and Proton-launched ships would be more suitable. However, the concept of the TKS directly challenged the future of NPO Energia in the project. "It was better for them (Russian Space Agency and NPO Energia) to build eight Progress cargo ships instead of (having us supplying) two TKS-type spacecraft… It puts high pressure on the budget, but since they are the primary contractor on the station, they had more opportunities, if not more rights in the program," Shaevich argued.

Another argument (against TKS), that if (our ships) cause the reduction in the production rate of the Progress vehicles, then the general load on the (RKK Energia’s production plant) goes down too, and then there would be a problem with the Soyuz (production).

As Khrunichev representatives realized they were fighting an uphill battle on the issue of heavy supply ships, they started looking for other roles in the project. Khrunichev’s next idea for participation in the project was to convert TKS tugs into permanent modules of the station, not unlike large modules of the Mir space station. The concept again clashed with RKK Energia's plans to supply smaller modules for the future station. Khrunichev proposed to replace two life-support modules in the RKK Energia project with a single TKS-derived module.

According to the original assembly sequence proposed by RKK Energia for the cooperative station, the Mir-2’s core module would serve as the first element. Khrunichev then proposed to “attach” the TKS-based ship at the rear end of the core module. "We tried to attach FGB from the left and from the right, (however) our colleagues from RKK Energia always chased us away, Shaevich said, "Therefore, when we were leaving Crystal City, there was no decision, where the big (Khrunichev’s) module could be attached to. More precisely, the decision, (which was made) did not include our modules. In a certain sense, the trip was fruitless for Khrunichev… However, there was a different kind of result…"

Although no Khrunichev’s components were accepted into the possible configurations of the “unified” space station, which was drafted in Crystal City; one NASA official, who worked with Khrunichev’s team, circulated the team’s ideas in the US. As a result, a TKS-derived ship was listed in the 37-page report to the White House on the potential use of the Russian hardware in the latest reincarnation of the Freedom project, dubbed Alpha. Studies of the Alpha concept, which was essentially a stripped down version of Freedom, had continued for a few weeks; even as preliminary agreements on the “unified” Russian-American station were being worked out.

Shaevich and his colleagues returned to Moscow on August 31, 1993, and in September 1993, Khrunichev has already hosted a group of visitors from the US. American guests toured the production line of the Proton rocket and saw all but ready Spektr and Priroda modules intended for the Mir space station.

The October 1993 meeting

Despite a positive impression on the potential partners in the US, Khrunichev’s role in the project of the cooperative station remained unclear, until NASA team arrived to Moscow at the beginning of October 1993, for the discussion of the assembly sequence for the “unified” station. As Americans were landing in Moscow, the political struggle between the Russian parliament and President Yeltsin erupted into mass riots and bloody clashes on Moscow streets. These events could only underscore for the US delegation the opinion of the fresh Clinton Administration that space cooperation is one of several vehicles, which might help to ensure the very survival of the Russian democracy.

Khrunichev representatives did not show up for two initial meetings between US and Russian delegations held at headquarters of the Russian Space Agency on Friday and Saturday, October 1 and 2, 1993. Despite Shaevich’s arguments that Khrunichev has to push for its participation in the project, company’s director Anatoly Kiselev had not initially dispatched its delegation to the meetings. “They (Russian Space Agency) would come to us anyway,” Shaevich quoted Kiselev as saying.

Only by Monday, October 4, Shaevich received a direction from Kiselev to attend the meeting. In the morning on that day, Shaevich showed up at the conference room of Rosaviacosmos headquarters, where Russian and American delegations gathered behind a large round table. During the meeting the American side presented a set of requirements for the cooperative station, one of which would parallel assembly of the US and Russian segments of the outpost. Shaevich initially proposed to attach the FGB tug to the rear docking port of the service module. However, RKK Energia representatives presented strong arguments against such option.

“Big poster on the wall showed “minuses” opposite to our hardware,” Shaevich remembers, “This is it, I thought, I am in trouble.” The American delegation, however, was not happy that the initial assembly sequence proposed by RKK Energia included primarily Russian elements, with the US hardware joining in later.

Shaevich then picked a piece of paper and sketched a simple drawing of the assembly sequence, where the FGB tug would be the first element to be launched. It would be followed by the US module, then by the Russian element again. Such sequence would be a compromise between the US and Russian requirements.

“Here I realized that Bill Sheppard, (the head of American delegation) can swear,” Shaevich remembers, “Why are you brainwashing us, here there is this beautiful concept, quite mature and you offer us something else…”
Shaevich’s “artwork” was attached to the documentation on the project and was accepted by the US side as a base for further consideration. Khrunichev’s concept of FGB, however, met unexpected resistance from the Russian Space Agency.

“We do not need this module,” Shaevich quoted the agency’s position, “The Americans need it to maintain that “parallel” assembly philosophy … if you want it, build it yourself. ...(With the inclusion of FGB) we had to change the entire assembly process and provide docking of the service module with the already flying elements,” said Mikhail Sinelshikov, the head of manned space flight directorate at Rosaviacosmos about the agency’s opposition on the FGB. “This was an American proposal and it had a somewhat technical but a somewhat political nature. We believed we could do without FGB, however it could be done and it provided some additional funds for the industry.”

1994: The final go ahead to FGB

The issue with FGB remained unresolved, when Russian and US representatives discussed the cooperation on the Mir-NASA and Mir-Shuttle projects in Houston in June 1994. "These negotiations were very tense, it was the first time we faced this kind of atmosphere," Shaevich said, "There was very strong effort on the NASA side to lower the price for the work. The chief of the contract negotiations from NASA was extremely unpleasant. Possibly, this was the goal he had, but he went into personal insults. Possibly, this was a usual practice for the American side, but when this was happening at the level of international negotiations, everybody was just outraged. It went far enough, that there was an idea to give up all this business, pack up and leave. However, I believe, this person was (eventually) removed."

"Since contract negotiations were all secret, we were sitting in some kind of bunker, in the very back of the facility, in the windowless room with a single door. The whole atmosphere was very unpleasant. Needed people only approached, when the issue they responsible for was discussed. In the process of drafting this agreement I saw that, the FGB nowhere was present," Shaevich said, "It was not present in the Russian segment, even though half a year later, our people (at Khrunichev) had already started some preliminary work without funding. Anatoly Kiselev ordered to start the (design) work, which allowed fitting the craft into the project. However, there was nothing about it in the contract."

"There were two people on the team, with whom we discussed Spektr and Priroda issues, since the contract had our work on the modules in it. I told them: “Look, RKA is not going to order the FGB from Khrunichev. You also did not include it into the contract, however, we need to start working on the module, since the configuration of the station had already been approved, but nobody was going to finance the FGB. Finally, in order to start the development, the decision was made to purchase the hardware with long-term production cycles. I compiled several articles of the contract between NASA and RKA for $25 million. It included the production of the mockup, the purchase of parts, the purchase of raw materials for the hull of the craft."

"Back in Russia, at the agency, I also experienced some resistance, they were saying “why do you put all this, we have more important business to take care of and so on, however, the Americans insisted and $25 million remained. With this money, the work (on FGB) officially started. When the original US funds for the FGB work had been spent work stopped again. Finally, in September 1994, NASA made a decision to finance the entire production of the FGB tug through the contract with Lockheed Martin. Russian Space Agency agreed to procure the Proton rocket for the launch of the FGB in exchange for the delivery of the Science and Power Platform for the Russian segment onboard the Space Shuttle.


The Zarya FGB module undergoes processing in Baikonur in 1998.


Next chapter: Launch of Zarya FGB module

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Page author: Anatoly Zak

Last update: August 12, 2021

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insider content



NASA administrator Daniel Goldin (left) and Head of the Russian space agency Yuri Koptev (right) sign an agreement on the International Space Station, as US Vice President Al Gore and the Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin look on. The image was probably taken on July 16, 1996, when the two sides approved the early ISS development and assembly schedule. Credit: Roskosmos

FGB hull

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The FGB module during its assembly at Khrunichev enterprise in Moscow. Click to enlarge. Credit: Khrunichev

FGB in Baikonur

The FGB module during the final assembly at Site 254 in Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 25, 1998. Click to enlarge.


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