Artist rendering of the ACTS spacecraft in the low Earth orbit, as it was envisioned by Russian engineers in July 2008. The crew capsule of the ship was conceived to be reusable, thus capable of withstanding multiple fiery reentries into the Earth atmosphere. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak


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ACTS launch

Animation of the ACTS spacecraft lifting off onboard the Zenit-derived launch vehicle:

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ACTS animation

Animation of the ACTS spacecraft entering orbit upon separation from the upper stage of its launch vehicle:

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ACTS deorbit

Animation of the ACTS spacecraft conducting a deorbiting maneuver:

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Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

ACTS 2008

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ACTS 2008

Artist rendering of the ACTS spacecraft based on the configuration revealed by RKK Energia during the Farnborough Air and Space Show in July 2008. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak


The July 2008 configuration of the ACTS spacecraft with a Zenit-based launch vehicle. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

ACTS launch

The ACTS spacecraft blasts off onboard the Zenit-derived launch vehicle. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak


As the second stage of the launch vehicle shuts down, the ACTS spacecraft enters low Earth orbit. Moments later the rocket would separate leaving the spacecraft in the free flight. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

ACTS lunar

The lunar version of the ACTS spacecraft would 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


After a fiery descent through the Earth atmosphere, a reusable crew capsule of the ACTS spacecraft sits on the ground. Solid-propellant motors were apparently proposed for the ship to soften the landing. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

ACTS compare

The comparison of two possible versions of the ACTS spacecraft and the Soyuz capsule. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Launch vehicles

During 2008, developers proposed several competing configurations of the rocket launcher for the next-generation spacecraft. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

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Approaching crossroads

Published: 2008 Jan. 24

The last ACTS meeting of 2007, between European and Russian space officials took place at ESA facility of ESTEC, in Noordwijk, Netherlands, in the middle of December. The event included both agencies' and industry officials and had original goal of finalizing an engineering concept of the spacecraft. However, according to sources involved in negotiations, more studies of alternative concepts were deemed necessary before the final configuration would be agreed upon by all sides.

According to some reports, an Apollo-like, cone-shaped capsule, capable of accommodating six people, was proposed as an alternative to a "headlight" shape of the crew module, which was deemed favorite in October 2007. If the alternative configuration is approved, the future Russian-European spacecraft would closely resemble NASA's yet-to-be built Orion spacecraft, an itself a carbon-copy of the American Apollo capsule.

Unlike the Soyuz, the Apollo and Orion consist of two rather than three modules: the conical command module and the barrel-shaped service module. The Soyuz features an additional habitation module, which provides a critical safety and other engineering advantages for the crew, according to many engineers.

Sources familiar with the Russian-European negotiations stressed that although two agencies had recommended the industry to concentrate on the "headlight" shape of the crew module for their future studies, door remained opened to alternative architectures.

Although a cone-shaped design is mostly associated with the American Apollo capsule, Soviet designers employed a similar configuration in the design of the heavy transport ship, known as TKS. As early as 2005, Moscow-based Khrunichev enterprise proposed to a follow-on version of the TKS transport ship as a base for the next-generation lunar ship. The vehicle would provide larger, more capable foundation for the future spacecraft then Soyuz. However representatives of RKK Energia, the Soyuz developer, were quick to point out shortcomings of the TKS: “We are not dismissing their (Khrunichev’s) ideas," says Nikolai Bryukhanov, RKK Energia's leading engineer working on prospective space systems, "however let’s not forget that TKS is itself designed for (only) three people and, unlike us (RKK Energia), they haven’t really built it for a very long time.”  The latter is probably the strongest argument -- the last TKS reentry vehicle flew in the 1980s, while RKK Energia “eats and drinks” manned spaceflight for more than four decades.

As of beginning of 2008, a basic timeframe of the ACTS project called for additional studies of the spacecraft architecture to go on until the end of January. Then another high-level meeting of the industry and agency officials was tentatively expected in the first half of February 2008, with the hope to finally choose the architecture of the future spacecraft. It would be followed by negotiations on a basic framework for cooperation on the new vehicle. This effort would outline rights and responsibilities of two sides in the program. Both agencies still hope to present a cooperative proposal for the development of the ACTS spacecraft to a ministerial conference of countries-members of European Space Agency scheduled for the end of November 2008.

Back to basics: another Apollo clone?

Published: 2008 Feb. 1

After long and winding road toward the design of a next-generation spacecraft, Russian and European space officials found themselves in the 1960s with a replica of NASA's Apollo spacecraft.

According to reliable sources within the industry, two space agencies chose the concept featuring a cone-shaped crew module and a service module, as a base for the 21-century lunar spaceship. The latest concept was reportedly approved during a previously anticipated meeting of Russian and European engineers in Moscow in the last week of January 2008.

The 15-18-ton spacecraft would measure five meters in diameter and could carry crew of six, providing 2.5 cubic meters of habitable volume for each person. To reach orbit, the yet-to-be built vehicle would also need a new launcher, deriving from the Zenit rocket. Unlike its predecessor manufactured in Ukraine, the new rocket booster would be developed in Russia and fly from a future space center in Vostochny in the Russian Far East.

Russian-European space project hits a snag... again

Published: 2008 Feb. 23

An early cooperative effort of European and Russian space agencies to develop a manned lunar spacecraft run into a new obstacle.

According to sources within the European aerospace industry, on Friday, February 22, 2008, engineers at EADS-Astrium, the main contractor of the European Space Agency, in Bremen, Germany, received the order to stop all work on the Advanced Crew Transportation System, ACTS.

The ACTS program envisioned the development of a Russian-European spacecraft capable of carrying humans into orbit around the Moon and supporting expeditions to its surface. Even in its very early stage, the project had already experienced a number of delays as a result of the infighting within the Russian space industry. The cooperative program also faced growing criticism in Russia for its perceived dependency on Europe, as the Russian government was asserting more confidence in its ability to fund the industry. In the recent interview to a Russian newspaper, Vitaly Lopota, the head of RKK Energia, Russia's prime developer of manned spacecraft, told that Russia would maintain leadership in the development of the next-generation spacecraft.

Europe, Russia announce next-generation spacecraft

Published: 2008 May 14

Europe and Russia said they have agreed on the combined development of the next-generation spacecraft for lunar exploration.

If approved by European and Russian governments, the cooperative program can lead to the human expeditions to the Moon in the next decade.

In its official statement on May 13, 2008, Roskosmos said that two sides chose a conical shape of the crew capsule, which will carry up to a six-member crew during the flight and provide its safe return to Earth. A pivotal agreement for the future of both European and Russian manned space program had been reached after half a year of negotiations between RKK Energia of Russia and European aerospace contractors Thales Alenia Space and EADS Astrium. Two sides have considered a multitude of possible configurations of the future spacecraft, including a vehicle, with folding wings, which derived from an earlier proposal of the Kliper reusable orbiter. Since a winged craft was deemed too ambitious for the available budgets and ill-suited for a lunar role mandated by both European and Russian space agencies, the industry had to look at alternative concepts.

So-called lifting-body vehicles, which feature no wings, but still shaped as an aircraft to allow some significant aerodynamic lift and the maneuverability during the return into the atmosphere, had been proposed as a compromise to the winged spacecraft. Much more exotic configurations, sporting inflatable heat shield, were considered as well.

The two sides ultimately settled on the conical shape of the crew capsule, which resembles NASA's Apollo and Orion spacecraft. According to Roskosmos, during the comparative analysis of the future spacecraft design, two sides took into consideration Russia's decision to build a new launch site in Vostochny. In 2007, the Russian government committed to the development of Vostochny with the goal for the new space center to host its first manned launch of the next-generation spacecraft by 2018. It left the industry only seven or eight years to bring an unmanned prototype of the new spacecraft to the launch pad in 2015-2016. Within such timeframe, any design, but a traditional capsule would be too risky for development.

Although both sides will continue further refinement of the spacecraft configuration, it was agreed that the spacecraft with the approximate mass of 18-20 tons will be launched by a Russian rocket from Vostochny, Roskosmos said.

Flight testing is expected to take place in 2015 and the first manned mission in 2018. According to Roskosmos, Russian company RKK Energia will be responsible for the development of the crew module, while European companies will supply the service module, derived from the ATV cargo ship. Still, RKK Energia will be conducting the final integration of the vehicle, Roskosmos said.

By October 2008, two sides hope to complete documentation on the technical and programmatic aspects of the project, paving the way to a final decision to launch the vehicle development. An intermediate version of the agreement is to be considered at the combined meeting of the European and Russian space agencies in June 2008.

Russia and Europe to discuss lunar craft in Moscow

Published: 2008 June 4

With the concept of the future Russian-European transport spacecraft finally decided, the potential partners plan to work out technical details.

Representatives of the European space industry are preparing to travel to Moscow in the middle of this month, to discuss the Advanced Crew Transportation System, or ACTS. Space officials from Europe and Russia agreed on the format of the meeting at the end of May, during the ILA-2008 air and space show in Berlin.

Both sides expressed optimism that after a roller coaster ride toward a general agreement on the basic design of the spacecraft and "who does what" in the ACTS project, the two sides can progress toward funding approval of the spacecraft development.

The European Space Agency, ESA, has exactly six months before a crucial conference of ministers in November 2008, which will allocate money for space for the next three years. Traditionally, manned space flight has been only a small portion of the ESA budget, and politicians would have to be convinced of the feasibility of any manned venture before committing their countries and their budgets to it. Equally important would be reliable financial and political support of the ACTS project in Russia.

"When I look at discussions at ESA, my feeling is that ESA is strongly inclined... to make (ACTS) happen, to make it possible and I think it is very good approach," said Cristian Bank, Head of ISS Extensions at EADS Space Transportation, Europe's prime contractor in manned space flight.     

On May 13, 2008, after months of difficult negotiations, Roskosmos announced that a general agreement on the design of the craft and responsibilities of two sides had been achieved. Although ESA has not issued a simultaneous statement, European officials concurred with the Russian announcement. "This is a reference for the two space agencies, so we take it very seriously," Bank said, "We feel very positive about this... this is very ambitious program and if Europe and Russia can agree on this cooperation, I think this is a best thing we can have."

European officials clarified that although they agreed to conduct the final integration of the ACTS spacecraft in Russia, some operational missions of the vehicle might be conducted specifically by ESA, in which case, the assembly would take place in Europe. "...But, I think for the development phase, Russia has big experience (in building the spacecraft) and it makes sense to streamline the project to achieve that goal," Bank said.

Refining the design: the crew capsule

With a general agreement in place, many technical and programmatic details of the venture remained to be tackled. Both sides agreed that the crew module of the spacecraft would be a cone with an opening angle of 20 degrees.

The "magic number" of 20 degrees was once chosen for the Viking crew capsule, one of Europe’s several stillborn projects of manned space vehicles in the 1990s. The same 20-degree angle of the capsule was retained yet again in European industry’s proposal for a three-seat vehicle, which could be built independently by ESA, in case the more ambitious Russian-European project did not materialize. However, the 20-degree cone is much sharper and steeper than the shape chosen by NASA for its Orion lunar vehicle. The latter is apparently better optimized for the return to Earth from lunar trajectories, however it loses out to the Russian-European configuration in available internal volume. Russian and European engineers will now have to go through a complicated process of choosing and arranging internal systems inside the capsule.

It was also agreed that the ACTS spacecraft would accommodate six people for missions in Earth orbit and could carry four people to orbit around the Moon. Beyond these basics parameters, engineers are yet to decide on many aspects of the design, for example, to what extent to make the crew capsule and its systems reusable after each mission. According to Igor Khamits, the head of development division for manned spacecraft complexes at RKK Energia, a primary Russian contractor in the ACTS project, engineers hope that the crew capsule could be reused for at least 10 missions. To achieve this, developers will have to do away with the traditional ablative thermal protection system, which burns up layer by layer as the reentry capsule streaks through the atmosphere on its way to Earth. Instead, Russian engineers looked at more advanced solutions, such as reusable tiles. Given the international nature of the ACTS project, RKK Energia did not shy away from seeking potential subcontractors outside Russia. During ILA-2008 air and space show in Berlin, Russian engineers considered products of Germany-based MT Aerospace, which has experience in development of thermal protection components for rocketry.

Refining the design: the service module

Both sides also agreed that the second module of the ACTS spacecraft would be the European-built service module, containing the propulsion system.

In the early planning of the ACTS project, it was assumed that the service module would derive from the design of the European ATV spacecraft. However, Russian space officials warn not to expect a carbon copy of the ATV service module to be integrated into the ACTS design. "We will have tough conditions on mass characteristics and available volume for all systems," Khamits says, "when we lay out our limitations before our European colleagues, we shall see how much of the existing ATV design could be directly inherited by the ACTS spacecraft." Although Russian engineers fully appreciate the sophistication of the ATV systems, they often perceive the ship’s general layout as overly generous and oversized. In one example, Russian engineers quoted a possibility of  "repackaging" ATV’s propellant tanks to save room and mass. 

Given the capabilities of the mighty Ariane-5 rocket, which launches the ATV, the mass and volume factors have not been as critical in the design. In the meantime, Russian engineers have traditionally worked with very tight mass limitations and likely to face them again in the ACTS project. Although the Russian space agency quoted 18-20 tons for the total mass of the ACTS spacecraft, RKK Energia engineers estimated that they could "diet down" the vehicle to as low as 12 tons, leaving eight tons for the six-seat crew capsule. (The July 2008 document estimated the crew capsule mass at seven tons.) In the meantime, European officials saw 16 tons as the lowest mass for the future spacecraft, perhaps reflecting a very raw state of the project.

If RKK Energia's weight reduction effort proves realistic, it would bring the ACTS spacecraft within the launch capabilities of the existing Zenit rocket, or a similar yet-to-be-built vehicle. After the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, Russian officials shunned the Ukrainian-built Zenit as a "foreign" launch vehicle. Still, RKK Energia has longed eyed the rocket for its next-generation spacecraft. Back in the 1980s, the company relied on Zenit in the first fruitless attempt to replace the Soyuz with the reusable Zarya spacecraft. In the first decade of the 21st century, RKK Energia again favored Zenit as the launcher for the Kliper orbiter. Given the international nature of the ACTS project, the Zenit could become attractive to developers once again.

Still, the official position of the Russian government calls for the development of a brand-new launcher and a launch facility for the manned space flight in Vostochny. European officials did endorse this decision as well. "This cooperation agreement is based on the understanding that there will be a new manned launcher... with the higher launch capacity than current Soyuz (rocket) and that requires a new launch pad..," Bank said.

Flight profile

Although recent discussions between Europe and Russia were focused exclusively on a spacecraft capable of reaching Earth orbit, the ultimate goal of the program during 2007-2008 was a "transport system" to the lunar surface. To that end, Russian and European officials provided only hints on a possible direction of their future efforts. Both sides agreed that the development of a brand-new heavy-lifting launch vehicle would be required to limit the number of launches for each expedition to the Moon to only two. Previously voiced plans by RKK Energia envisioning up to seven launches of medium-lift rockets to enable a single expedition to the Moon were shelved as unfeasible. According to the sources within the industry, long-term plans for the construction of Russia's new spaceport in the Far East include facilities for both medium-size and heavy-lift rockets.

Still, Russians space officials asked not to expect an exact mirror of flight profile and lifting capabilities proposed by NASA for its current effort to return astronauts to the Moon. Russians indicated that lunar landing could be achieved with lighter, cheaper rockets than those developed for the American program. The partners apparently also remained undecided whether to conduct a rendezvous between the transport ship and the lander in the Earth orbit or in lunar orbit.

Missions to lunar orbit

Two revisions of the ACTS spacecraft for circumlunar missions presented by EADS Astrium in July 2008, estimated the total mass of the ship from 13 to 16 tons and capable of carrying three or four people respectively. A special orbital tug (the EDS stage) with the total mass of 49 tons and 39 tons of propellant onboard would be inserted into the low-Earth orbit by a separate launcher, for a following rendezvous with the manned spacecraft. It would then boost the spacecraft on its way to the Moon and insert it into the lunar orbit.

Earth-orbit missions

In the meantime, a basic mission profile to the low-Earth orbit had emerged by mid-2008. It included the launch of the ship onboard the two-stage rocket resembling the Zenit booster. During a ten-minute ride to orbit, the escape rocket, the payload fairing covering the service compartment of the ship and the first stage would consequently separate. The second stage would leave the ship in the 135 by 440-kilometer orbit, which would immediately followed by the firing of the spacecraft's own engine to reach more stable altitude.

In the following two days, the ACTS spacecraft would use its own engines again to add the total of 136 meters per second to its velocity, known as Delta V, to reach and dock with the International Space Station, ISS at the altitude of 460 kilometers. The ship could remained docked to the outpost for as long as 195 days.

Landing profile

During its three-hour trip back to Earth, the ACTS spacecraft would conduct a deorbiting engine burn to slow itself down by 130 meters per second. The service compartment would be then jettisoned to burn up in the Earth atmosphere, while the crew module would conduct a 40-minute reentry and touchdown with the help of solid-propellant soft-landing engines. (300) Combined with retractable landing legs and a reusable thermal protection system, 12 solid-propellant landing rockets promised to enable not only safe return to Earth, but also the possibility of multiple space missions of the same crew capsule.

According to the presentation made by Nikolai Bryukhanov, the leading designer at RKK Energia, at the 26th International Symposium on Space Technology and Science in Hamamatsu, Japan, in the summer of 2008, the spacecraft would fire its engines at the altitude of just 600-800 meters, as the capsule is streaking toward Earth after reentering the atmosphere at the end of the mission. After a vertical descent, the precision landing would be initiated at the altitude of 30 meters above the surface.

Russian engineers arrived to this unusual configuration of the future spacecraft via long and arduous path of conflicting requirements and compromises. In 2007, the Russian government made a momentous decision to build a new launch site in the nation’s Far East, hoping to end Russia’s dependency on the spaceport in Baikonur, located in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. The future site would be located almost as far south as Baikonur, an important orbital mechanics factor, determining the cargo capacity of rockets. However, the very same decision left only a narrow strip of land in the European part of Russia, near the city of Orenburg, for returning space capsules to land if they followed their traditional inflexible path of reentry. Not surprisingly, Russian engineers found themselves under political pressure to improve the maneuverability of the future spacecraft, so it could guide itself into a circular landing area with the radius of only two kilometers, instead of being at the mercy of winds, when landing under a parachute in the endless flatlands of Kazakhstan. Radical solutions like aircraft shapes and "transformers" with deployable wings were deemed too expensive and technically risky, giving a concurrent requirement of the Russian government to have the new spacecraft ready for the first manned mission in 2018. Eventually, the capsule with the rocket-assisted landing emerged as a winning combination, promising to keep the predicted touchdown to a piece of land of only two by five kilometers.

As an alternative solution, RKK Energia representatives reportedly proposed to introduce a nominal splashdown of the new spacecraft into the Pacific Ocean, instead of a traditional land-based landing practiced by the Russian maned space program since its inception. Water landings would be supported by rescue and recovery ships, which had to be deployed in the Pacific anyway to provide emergency services to the crew in case of an accident during launch from Vostochny. However such a proposal apparently would still fail to eliminate the requirement for a powered, high-precision landing, since during its initial phase of the flight from Vostochny, the spacecraft would overfly evergreen forests of the Russian Far East, and in case of emergency, it would have to be able to steer itself into a limited size landing area.

Europe, Russia limit cooperation to contractual relations

Published: 2008 Sept. 4; updated Oct. 15

European and Russian engineers plan to hold a meeting on the joint development of the future manned spacecraft next month. The European aerospace giant EADS Astrium will host the event in Bremen, Germany, from 7th to 9th of October 2008. Representatives of Italian company Alenia and the Russian leader in manned spacecraft development -- RKK Energia -- were expected to attend.

The event will take place on the eve of the crucial conference of the European ministers in November, which traditionally determines the scope and direction of the European space program, committing funds of countries-members of the European Space Agency, ESA, for the next three years.

Despite complex political climate between Russia and EU, European space engineers still hope to receive a blessing from politicians for the joint development of the next-generation manned spacecraft, known as the Advanced Crew Transportation System, ACTS.

According to Cristian Bank, a leading specialist on the manned systems at EADS Astrium, there would be a concrete proposal to the ministerial conference to increase funding for the Russian-European cooperation in the field of manned spaceflight. The current ACTS budget covers the work for the remaining of 2008 and beginning of 2009, Bank said.

In preparation for the ministerial conference, Russian and European engineers work to finalize technical propwosals for the ACTS spacecraft by the end of October 2008.

From the outset, the ACTS project stirred controversy on both sides. Last month, a Russian veteran cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev told Russian RIA Novosti news agency that Europe was not interested in the joint development. "Although at one point we had been told that the European Space Agency wanted to develop the new type of spacecraft jointly, even though we ourselves were not sure that we had wanted it, now it has become clear that each side will have to develop something on its own. We just have to realize that clearly and move on," Krikalev said.

As an engineer at RKK Energia, Krikalev likely reflected the attitude of at least some officials within the Russian space industry. However, two space agencies did not make official statements on the status of the program since May. Both sides did evaluate options for independent development of manned spacecraft.

As a likely conclusion for the Bremen meeting, the head of RKK Energia Vitaly Lopota told Interfax news agency on October 10, 2008, that Russia would build a new manned spacecraft using country's own resources and without foreign participation. Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, echoed that statement in the interview with the official ITAR-TASS news agency, which quoted him as saying that the new spacecraft would be built by RKK Energia.

The outcome of the November 2008 ministerial meeting

Despite all these Russian pronouncements, European Space Agency, ESA, provided no immediate comments on the situation. However after a November 2008 ministerial meeting of the countries-members of the European Space Agency, and the deferral of the continent's manned space flight effort, the joint development of the next-generation spacecraft was essentially ruled out. European effort to develop a manned spacecraft was limited to a feasibility study, which could potentially pave the way to a retrievable version of the ATV cargo ship by around 2017. In turn, the cargo ship could be man-rated by 2020, money provided.

At the time, any Russian-European cooperation in manned space flight was expected to be limited to industrial contracts. Both Russian and European space agencies could still seek system and service suppliers in Europe and Russia, respectively.

Russian-only spacecraft, PPTS

On January 21, 2009, the head of Russian space agency, Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov told Rossiyskaya Gazeta that Russia would likely proceed with independent development of the next-generation manned spacecraft, which by then became known by its Russian abbreviation PPTS, for Perspektivnaya Pilotiruemaya Transportnaya Sistema - or "Prospective Piloted Transport System." 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, examining 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 a timeframe of 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.

Re-thinking the rocket landing: back to parachutes

At the beginning of 2009, various unofficial reports said that previous Russian proposals for the next-generation spacecraft went through further engineering evolution. First of all, a concept of using exclusively rocket engines for the landing apparently drew its share of criticism and an 80-kilogram parachute assembly was re-introduced. It seems that initially the parachute was seen as a backup system only, in case of the landing engine failure; however, later it became a part of the nominal landing sequence along with rocket engines. Solid-propellant braking engines would fire at the altitude of one kilometer above the Earth surface, and the parachute system would be deployed 700 meters above ground. The section of the reentry capsule containing soft-landing engines would be jettisoned prior to touchdown.

As of February 2009, the landing exclusively under rocket power still remained on the table as an option, however it became less favored than a combination of the rocket engines and parachutes, industry insiders said.


Technical characteristics and mission requirements for the ACTS spacecraft (as of July 2008):

Low-Earth orbit, LEO
Low-Lunar orbit, LLO (July 2008)
Low-Lunar orbit, LLO (June 2008)
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
Reentry capsule mass
7,000 kilograms
7,500 kilograms
8,600 kilograms
Service module mass
5,000 kilograms
5,500 kilograms
7,800 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
Internal free habitable volume
~ 9 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
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)

* for missions in the low-Earth orbit, LEO

Technical characteristics of the space tug (acceleration stage) for the circumlunar missions within the ACTS project (as of July 2008):

Total mass (without launch vehicle adapter)
49,000 kilograms
Usable propellant
39,000 kilograms
Specific Impulse, Isp
460 seconds
Delta V capability for the 13-ton payload
4,355 meters per second

ACTS project chronology:

2007 Aug. 21: The Russian space agency, Roskosmos, announced that it reached an agreement with Europe to form a working group on the development of a new manned transported system, which could support missions to the International Space Station, ISS, as well as lunar expeditions and even flights to Mars. Talks between head of Roskosmos Anatoly Perminov and the head of the European Space Agency, ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain had been taking place at the MAKS-2007 air and space show in Zhukovsky, Russia.

2007 early September: European and Russian specialists initiate combined studies aimed to choose architecture of the future lunar spacecraft.

2007 Oct. 18: In Moscow, European and Russian space industries presented European Space Agency, ESA, and Russian space agency, Roskosmos, with the results of their studies. A day later, representatives from two space agencies met to consider a framework for the future agreement. The enlarged headlight-shaped crew module is considered favorite.

2007 middle of December: European and Russian space officials meet at ESA facility of ESTEC, in Noordwijk, Netherlands. A cone-shaped module emerges as favorite. In the meantime, EADS Astrium division in Bremen, Germany starts working on a full-scale mockup of the European-only concept of a three-seat manned vehicle.

2008 end of January: Meeting in Moscow considers cone-shaped capsule as a preferred configuration of the crew module of the ACTS spacecraft.

2008 Feb. 22: Engineers at EADS-Astrium in Bremen, Germany, received an order to stop all the work on the ACTS project.

2008 May 13: Roskosmos announced that the agreement with the European Space Agency, ESA, on the ACTS project had been reached.

2008 May 27-28: During ILA-2008 air and space show in Berlin, Germany, Russian and European officials from EADS Astrium and RKK Energia discuss a framework of the meeting on the technical aspects of the ACTS program, then planned in two weeks.

2008 July: During the Farnborough Air Show, RKK Energia reveals first official images of the Russian-European ACTS spacecraft.

2008 July 7-8: The European industrial conglomerate EADS Astrium presented basic mission requirements and technical capabilities of the potential Russian-European and/or all-European spacecraft at the Space Exploration Architecture workshop in Noordwijl, Netherland.

2008 Oct. 7-9: European and Russian engineers discussed the ACTS project in Bremen, Germany.

2008 Nov. 25-26: During a ministerial meeting in the Hague, Netherlands, member states of the European Space Agency, ESA, limited the development of the continent's manned spacecraft to a feasibility study. The decision pushed the possible first launch of a cargo reentry capsule to at least 2017 and of a man-rated vehicle to around 2020.

ACTS development schedule and upcoming milestones (as of July 2008):

2008 end of October: Russian and European industries to finalize a proposal for the ACTS project.

2008 November: Ministers from countries-members of the European Space Agency, ESA, to hold a conference on the direction and scope of the European space program.

2009-2011: Phase A/B/C0 development;

2011: Preliminary Design Review, PDR;

2012-2017: Phase C/D development;

2014: Critical Design Review, CDR;

2016: Crew module aircraft drop and landing tests;

2018: First test launch;

2019: First manned mission to the ISS;

Next chapter: Developments in 2009

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Writer and illustrator: Anatoly Zak; last update: September 18, 2019

Editor: Alain Chabot; last edit: June 24, 2008

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