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ACTS project


Rockets for PPTS



Above: An Earth-orbiting configuration of the PTK NP (PPTS) spacecraft as of August 2009.


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Anatoly Zak

ACTS deorbit

Animation of the ACTS spacecraft conducting a deorbiting maneuver:

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Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

ACTS animation

Animation of the PPTS spacecraft touchdown in southern Russia:

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Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak

ACTS compare

Comparison of two possible versions of the PPTS spacecraft and the Soyuz capsule. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

PTK launch

Artist rendering of the Rus-M launch with the PTK NP spacecraft, as it was envisioned by developers during 2009. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


An Earth-orbiting configuration of the PTK NP (PPTS) spacecraft as of summer 2008. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

PTK with RB

Artist rendering of a next-generation manned spacecraft, equipped with a booster stage to escape the Earth’s gravity and reach lunar orbit. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak

ACTS lunar

The 16.5-ton lunar version of the PPTS spacecraft could feature a "stretched" service module, which could carry increased load of propellant for maneuvers in the vicinity of the Moon. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak


Another "flavor" of the PTK NP spacecraft was considered for autonomous missions in Earth orbit, possibly aiming to service unmanned platforms. Credit: RKK Energia


Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak

PTK scale

RKK Energia demonstrated the first scale model of the PTK NP (PPTS) spacecraft at the Moscow Air and Space Show in August 2009. The model revealed the use of reusable thermal protective tiles on the spacecraft, instead of a traditional ablative system which would burn away in layers during the reentry into the Earth atmosphere. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak

docking ring

A docking ring is possibly the first element of the PTK NP spacecraft appearing in metal and the first "point of contact" in the Russian-American cooperation on the next-generation spacecraft. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak



Visualization of thermal flow during the reentry of the descent module of the PTK spacecraft at different angles during studies circa 2009.

Previous chapter: ACTS/PPTS development during 2008

PPTS is the Russian abbreviation of "Perspektivnaya Pilotiruemaya Transportnaya Sistema" or "Prospective Piloted Transport System." The goal of the project was to develop a new-generation spacecraft to replace the venerable Soyuz. By the beginning of 2009, upon abandoning plans for cooperation on the project with Europe, Russia's federal space agency, Roskosmos, ordered the industry to finalize proposals for the new manned spacecraft.

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During the first quarter of 2009, Roskosmos finalized its requirements for the next-generation manned spacecraft and the agency was ready to finally name the prime-developer of the vehicle. Formally, only the two organizations that were capable of developing manned space vehicles competed in the government tender to build the new spacecraft -- RKK Energia in Korolev and Moscow-based GKNPTs Khrunichev.

Although the run up to the tender was conducted behind closed doors, a number of Russian officials made statements hinting about the various stages of the project. On January 21, 2009, the head of Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta that Russia would likely proceed with the independent development of the next-generation manned spacecraft. According to Perminov, the agency and its main research and certification center -- TsNIIMash -- had already conducted an expanded meeting of the Scientific and Technical Council, NTS, to examine follow-on transport systems, including the next-generation manned ship. It would be followed by a government tender to select a developer for the new vehicle. The new spacecraft would be expected to enter service within the same timeframe as the US Orion vehicle, however a more detailed development plan would be ready with the preliminary design of the vehicle in the middle of 2010, Perminov said. (321)

On January 29, 2009, Aleksei Krasnov, the head of manned space flight at Roskosmos, confirmed that a second government tender for the development of the next-generation spacecraft would be initiated in 2009. (In 2006, three Russian companies competed in an aborted government tender.)

Agency requirements for PPTS spacecraft

In the first quarter of 2009, Roskosmos released requirements, which were used in the development of the Technical Assignment (TZ) to the industry working on the PPTS project. The document asked the industry to develop a vehicle matching similar "foreign" (meaning American) spacecraft in its technical capabilities and cost, while at the same time, using existing technologies as much as possible.

Spacecraft versions

Roskosmos envisioned several modifications of the spacecraft: an Earth-orbiting version that could fly 30-day-long autonomous missions, or year-long missions while docked to the ISS in an orbit with an inclination 51.6 degrees or to the future Russian space station launched from Vostochny into a 51.8-degree orbit. A lunar version could fly 14-days missions to orbit around the Moon, or stay docked to the lunar orbital station, LOS, for up to 200 days. (This requirement hinted about the possible long-term plans of the Russian space agency for lunar exploration). The spacecraft could serve as a manned transport vehicle, or as an unmanned cargo ship.

Earth orbit (station)
Lunar orbit version
Cargo version
Crew size
Cargo (delivery and return)
500 kilograms
100 kilograms
2,000 kg up; 500 kg down
Autonomous flight duration
5 days
14 days
30 days
Flight duration, when docked to the station
365 days
200 days
12 tons
16.5 tons

Roskosmos also requested the industry to evaluate the possibility of launching a baseline modification of the spacecraft into a near-polar orbit with an inclination 73.2 degrees toward the Equator.

The agency specified that a single cosmonaut had to be able to conduct all flight operations from a single work seat, while two equally equipped work stations would be available in the cockpit to control the vehicle.

The agency also specified that g-loads on the crew should not exceed the following parameters:

Nominal orbit insertion
Nominal reentry into the Earth atmosphere
During descent with maximum lateral maneuver
During the firing of the emergency escape system following a launch vehicle failure
During atmospheric reentry following the emergency escape system firing

The crew capsule had to have the capability to conduct an emergency return to Earth either from orbit, or during a powered flight to orbit, with the ability to touch down in any season on any unprepared piece of land or at sea. As of March 2009, the agency "relaxed" the accuracy of the crew capsule landing on the Russian territory to 10 kilometers from the previous two kilometers, while directing the industry to continue studying various modes of high-precision landing. Emergency escape and landing capabilities were mandated for every phase of the mission and had to provide the survivability of the crew until the arrival of the rescue and recovery teams.

Like the Soyuz, the vehicle would have to be able to conduct fully automated and manual docking and have enough propulsion capabilities during transport missions to dock and re-dock with orbital stations, low-orbital platforms, unmanned spacecraft and modules and then to provide for the safe return of the reentry vehicle to Earth. The reentry capsule could only employ environmentally safe propellants during the atmospheric phase of the flight. Roskosmos said that "in case of reuse" of the reentry vehicle it had to be able to fly up to 10 missions during its 15-year life span.

Autonomous missions

Roskosmos said that during its 30-day autonomous mission, the spacecraft should have the capabilities to accomplish following tasks:

  • service unmanned spacecraft and platforms;
  • remove failed spacecraft and "space junk" fragments from orbit;
  • conduct experiments and research with various payloads;
  • test technologies for remote sensing and early warning of large-scale emergency situations and natural disasters;
  • conduct dual-purpose and military application missions;

Lunar mission scenario

The ultimate purpose of the PPTS vehicle would remain the support of lunar expeditions. As of the beginning of 2009, planners saw the lunar mission scenario as following:

  • The launch of the manned spacecraft, PK, with a crew of four, along with the RB acceleration stage from Vostochny into low Earth orbit with an altitude of 200 kilometers;
  • The acceleration stage fires its engine to add 3,220 meters per second to the velocity of the spacecraft to escape the Earth orbit and send the manned spacecraft toward the Moon;
  • The acceleration stage fires its engine, delivering an impulse of around 1,300 meters per second to insert the manned spacecraft into lunar orbit with an altitude of 100 kilometers;
  • The manned spacecraft separates from the acceleration stage in lunar orbit;
  • The manned spacecraft docks to the unmanned lunar landing and takeoff craft, VPK;
  • The crew transfers to VPK, undocks and conducts a lunar landing;
  • The VPK takes off from the lunar surface;
  • The manned transport ship docks to VPK
  • The crew transfers from VPK to PK; VPK and PK separate; (the transport ship's propulsion system is expected to deliver around 100 meters per second in total maneuvers in lunar orbit);
  • The PK fires its engine delivering around 1,280 meters per second to leave lunar orbit and head toward Earth;
  • PK conducts orbit correction to obtain the correct approach for reentry;
  • The crew capsule and propulsion module separate and reenter the Earth atmosphere;
  • The crew capsule conducts landing in southern Russia in the border region with Kazakhstan;

Development of the PTK NP (PPTS) vehicle

The preliminary development of the PPTS spacecraft was expected to take place from March 2009 until June 2010 at an estimated cost of around 800 million rubles (or around $24 million). (Although a seemingly modest amount, it was a considerable progress in comparison to the 50 million rubles allocated to the previous tender, according to Russian space officials). The work apparently covered only the Earth-orbiting version of the spacecraft, although laying the foundation for a lunar orbiting spacecraft, or even a Mars-bound crew vehicle to be developed later.

In April 2008, quoted Valery Ryumin, deputy designer general at RKK Energia, as saying that available funding was 30 percent less than was required for the development. During the Paris Air and Space Show in Le Bourget in June 2009, the head of RKK Energia, Vitaly Lopota, echoed this statement in an interview with the editor of this web site. "We only got half of what would be needed for a truly preliminary design," Lopota said, "A preliminary design is more than a paper study, in fact, a great deal of experimentation should be done before the general architecture of the system can emerge, as we saw it with [NASA's] Orion spacecraft." Lopota said that federal government had so far provided little or no money for neccessary experimental work.

With the government tender completed on April 6, 2009, RKK Energia officially started the preliminary design of the vehicle. At the time, the company's representatives identified the new vehicle as Pilotiruemyi Transportny Korabl Novogo Pokoleniya, or PTK NP, or New Generation Piloted Transport Ship. Around the same time, the head of RKK Energia Vitaly Lopota dubbed the vehicle Rus (archaic name of Russia). While he warned that the name was provisional, some Russian media outlets used it in their news stories. If accepted, it would continue a confusing Russian tradition of giving the rocket and the spacecraft the same name. To make matters worse, in the Russian language, the word "Rus" is feminine, while the word "spacecraft" is masculine.

Lopota promised to involve GKNPTs Khrunichev in the development of the future spacecraft, as well as other Russian companies which could offer the best cutting-edge technologies. He also warned that until the completion of the preliminary design, RKK Energia would not release much details about the project. Privately, RKK Energia officials said that their leadership's reluctance to publicize the new spacecraft grew out of fiasco in the Kliper project, which was widely advertised in the press, only to be subsequently rejected by the Russian government.

Lopota did disclose, however, that despite a superficial resemblance to the US Orion spacecraft, the Russian vehicle would have distinct features, reflecting Russia's particular geographic situation. It was a clear hint about the rocket-powered landing system without the use of a parachute, which was considered for the new spacecraft. In a previous interview to Rossiskaya Gazeta, Lopota had stressed that the provision of launching and landing the spacecraft on the Russian territory would be decisive in determining its design. (330) The rocket-powered landing was seen as the solution to the technical challenge of directing the vehicle into the narrow swaths of land in southern Russia which would be within reach of the vehicle when returning from orbits with an inclination of 51.7 degrees. In turn, the orbital inclination was dictated by the geographical position of the launch site in Vostochny.

In all, RKK Energia was given around seven years to build the spacecraft and, just a few days after the April 6 announcement, the head of Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov, was quoted as saying that the first mission of the new ship would take place in 2017, or one year ahead of the previously quoted schedule. This "advance" coincided with another quote attributed to Perminov that Russia and the US were going "nose to nose" in their lunar landing efforts.

To prepare for the new expanded manned space program, RKK Energia was conducting the construction of a new factory building and facilities for the manufacturing of reentry vehicles and other composite-made structures, unofficial reports said. The company also purchased a 15-meter high, six meters in diameter high-pressure steam oven known as an autoclave in Germany for coating reentry vehicles with thermal protection layers. Added to the existing infrastructure, the new manufacturing facilities would enable RKK Energia to roll out up to 10 reentry vehicles per year, beginning in 2010. This new manufacturing infrastructure would help satisfy an increased demand for the Soyuz spacecraft in the ISS program, but also provide manufacturing capabilities for the future larger reentry vehicles and other components made of composite materials. In the meantime, NITs RKP test center (former NIIKhIMash) said that its VK600/300 chamber in the town of Peresvet would be the only suitable facility for thermal and vacuum testing of a full-scale, next-generation spacecraft.


By mid-summer 2009, Russian space officials decided to break their silence on the PPTS project and unveil the future spacecraft at the Moscow air and space show, MAKS, in August 2009, along with details of a grand 30-year plan for space exploration developed by the TsNIIMash research institute. A joint exhibit of companies subordinated to Roskosmos at MAKS-2009 displayed scaled models of the PTK NP spacecraft and its launch vehicle. The show coincided with several articles in Russian trade publications by key figures at RKK Energia.

The PTK model revealed reusable thermal protective tiles on the crew module, instead of a traditional ablative system which burns away in layers during reentry into the Earth atmosphere. Ironically, the Russian decision to employ tile-based thermal protection was taking place at the time, when NASA was returning to the use of the Apollo-era ablative system on its next-generation Orion spacecraft, while the tile-covered Space Shuttle was heading to retirement in 2010.

Six windows on either side of the crew module, which had been seen in earlier drawings, were either omitted from the model or, more likely, dropped from the design. Otherwise, at least three of those windows would end up in the area of maximum heat loads during reentry. The model also sported movable aerodynamic flaps at the top of the crew module, which could be used to steer the capsule as soon as it reached the discernable atmosphere on its way from orbit. The crew capsule would still have thrusters burning environmentally neutral gaseous oxygen and ethyl alcohol to maneuver beyond the atmosphere. (357)

The head of RKK Energia, Vitaly Lopota, also confirmed at MAKS-2009 that rocket-assisted landing with solid-propellant engines was still considered as the prime mode of return to Earth for the PTK NP spacecraft, (351) although sources within the industry said that debate was raging on the validity of such an approach.

The PTK NP model at MAKS-2009 also revealed that rotating solar arrays had replaced the fixed panels which had appeared in previous depictions of the vehicle. Combined with the use of more efficient power-generating cells and new-generation lithium batteries, the ship's power supply system would have greater capability than that of Soyuz. (357)

Traditional orbital rendezvous antennas were nowhere to be seen on the model, giving way to compact sensors, likely employing lasers to guide the vehicle to docking. (356) The spacecraft would also use new high-performance flight control computers capable of receiving and processing navigational data from a GLONASS satellite network, along with information from high-precision gyroscopes and optical sensors. A special movable antenna in the tail section of the service module would enable the spacecraft to maintain uninterrupted contact with ground control via special data-relay satellites. Two-way communications between the spacecraft and Earth would be consolidated into a single secured digital data stream, adaptable for quick deciphering, distribution and storage. The crew cabin would be equipped with liquid-crystal displays and customizable software. (357)


Evolution of technical characteristics and mission requirements for the ACTS/PTK NP spacecraft (July 2008 - August 2009):

Low-Earth orbit, LEO (July 2008)
Low-Lunar orbit, LLO (July 2008)
Low-Lunar orbit, LLO (June 2008)
LEO (Aug. 2009)
Total mass of the payload section with the spacecraft
12,700 kilograms
Total spacecraft launch mass
12,000 kilograms
13,000 kilograms
16,400 kilograms
12,000 kilograms
Reentry capsule mass
7,000 kilograms
7,500 kilograms
8,600 kilograms
7,770 kilograms
Service module mass
5,000 kilograms
5,500 kilograms
7,800 kilograms
4,230 kilograms
Launch escape tower mass
4,100 kilograms
Payload fairing and adapter ring mass
800 kilograms
Delta V capability of the engines in the service module*
325 meters per second
Main engine thrust
up to 6 kN
Crew size
up to 6 people
3 people
4 people
6 people
Internal free habitable volume
~ 9 cubic meters
Total of 18 cubic meters
Volume for internal equipment
~ 8 cubic meters
Volume per crewmember
1.8-2 cubic meters
Autonomous flight to reach the ISS
up to 5 days
Autonomous mission duration
up to 14 days, likely with a reduced crew
Mission duration when docked to the station
up to 200 days
365 days
Launch vehicle
Zenit, Ariane-5
Potential launch sites
Nominal landing sites
Kazakhstan, Woomera (Australia), Russia
Emergency landing sites for ballistic reentry
Kazakhstan, possibly Woomera (Australia)
Landing accuracy
2 kilometers

* for missions in low Earth orbit, LEO

Upcoming milestones in the PPTS project (as of 2009):

2010 June: A preliminary design of the PPTS spacecraft to be completed.

2010 September: A preliminary design of the Rus-M launch vehicle for the PPTS spacecraft to be completed.

2015: The Rus-M launch vehicle to fly its first unmanned test mission from Vostochny, carrying a cargo version of the PPTS spacecraft.

2018: The first manned launch of the PPTS spacecraft from Vostochny. (In 2009, a 2017 launch date was also quoted.)

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Next chapter: PTK NP development during 2010

Written and illustrated by Anatoly Zak; last update: June 20, 2018

Page editor: Alain Chabot; last edit: April 4, 2011

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