Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Russian Space Tech Surges Forward

With the next to the last flight of the American space shuttle in the air, the US will soon be retiring their space shuttles to replace them with a new vehicle, scheduled for 2013. Of course, seeing how things always delay in America, it is more likely 2023 is a better year. Until then, the Americans will be riding on Russian Soyuz capsules. But the Soyuz itself, a 40 year old technology with many modernizations, is on its way out, to be replaced with bigger better platforms.

The replacement of the Soyuz will be the Kliper, a ship carrying 6 crew and a half ton of cargo. It is scheduled to fly its maiden voyage some time in 2010. The ship is about twice the size of the Soyuz and will require much larger rockets, most likely the Zenit class of booster rockets, in order to make orbit. It will return to earth by extending wings and gliding down, for a soft landing.

Interestingly enough, if things go according to plant, the new, larger Kliper, will actually save money. The present Soyuz missions run between $20 to $30 million each (compared to the American space shuttles at around $300 million each). Kliper flights are supposed to move more equipment and people for less money, but even it the costs stay the same, with more room on the ship, there will be room for more space tourists and at $20 million per pop, the ships will earn a profit, with just one added passenger.

Development of the Kliper is also priced at the low cost of $1 billion, compare that to the $10 billion for the American Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), which is still on the drawing board.

But the Kliper is only the first modern step in a new plan by the Russian space agency to conquer the inner sphere of our solar system. Next on the development board is a manned spacecraft powered by a nuclear electric engine. Russia and the Soviet Union before, had developed, for decades, nuclear powered satellites, which did not have to rely upon easily damaged solar arrays, for power. Of course those put out only kilowatts of power, while this ships engines will have to run on the megawatt range. Of course, after40 years of working on this technology, this is a very realistic capability.

The ship's design is scheduled to be complete by 2012 and a finished by 2021, at an estimated cost of 17 billion rubles, or 580 million USD. More realistic estimates put the price tag at 1 to 1,5 billion USD, over the next decade.

The ship is aimed at flights to the Moon and to Mars, with a trip estimated to take about 39 days, one way. Nuclear electric rockets are twice as efficient as chemical rockets and most importantly, carry only a fraction of the weight in fuel. The Head of the Russian Space Agency, Anatoly Perminov was quoted as saying: "The project is aimed at implementing large scale space exploration programs, including manned missions to Mars, interplanetary travel, the creation and operation of planetary outposts."

True, the space budget is below these requirements, but there have been moves from President Medvedev down to the Duma to find funding and to find partners. If the Germans or Japanese can be brought into these projects, there is no end to the possibilities. NASA astronauts may be riding in Russian ships into the very far future, especially when counting how bankrupt the Americans are.


Publius said...

Wow. As a child, I used to love space exploration. Now, it's boring and sad how far behind the USA is - behind the expectations of the past, and now, it seems, Russia.

Maybe we should emigrate to Russia... is it really as dangerous living in Russia as the media here claims? The MSM tries to convince us that the Russian economy and state is basically an appendage of organized crime. What do you think of that police officer in Russia who recently went public with claims of corruption? If he's accurate, he's courageous...

Stanislav said...

Sure he is accurate, but than again, many a governor, mayor and police chief are now in jail and every couple of days another major arrest. Corruption is everywhere in teh world. Look at the corruptions in America. I read that after New Orlean got flooded, the government gives credit cards to the chenovniks to "help" people and they steal $18 billion buying themselves things, cars, new tits. That's more corruption than all the Russian thieves in one year.

Crime is high in certain areas, but over all is no more dangerous than any major European city. Last year in Russia on the Moscow rail system were 11 murderers, in London, over 30 and conductors quite for fear of life.

So judge for yourself, but do not listen to the Anglo MSM. Look at my article on HIV, their lies vs the truth.

bjorn said...

Another great column about Russian technological prowess! I'd be very curious to know what you think about Medvedev's proposed economic reforms. Will he let the poorly run businesses fail even if they are headed by politically connected individuals? (We can't even do that in the United States!) Will he succeed in making Russia a leader in technology in manufacturing? There's no shortage of brains and know-how in Russia. Resource allocation seems to be the sticking point, of course 70 years of soviet communism takes a lot of hard work to expunge.

Matthew Saroff said...

Speaking as someone who has followed the Shuttle program for its whole existence, I hope that you are wrong.

While this concept is rather closer to the X-20 Dyna-Soar concept of the 1960s, the lesson of the shuttle is that:
* Reusable systems do not save money.
* Using a launcher to carry both people and payload at the same time is a losing proposition.

In any case, gotta link?

halibut said...

Hmm, I wonder which of Germany or Japan the Ruskies would team up with? I think Japan is a present more eager to get away from the US than the Germans.

The American nuclear umbrella looks less robust to them.

vonbach said...

America simply doesn't have the people to build such things any more. Our education system has been dumbed down to a ridiculous degree. We simply don't have enough of the people that can build such things anymore. It doesn't help that NASA is mostly concerned with feeding its departments money not space.

Publius said...

We may really need to get out of the USA, especially if the new health-care "reform" monstrosity passes.

Could you write about this, sometime? What kind of a government would require its poorest citizens to purchase a product from a private corporation (health insurers), while only promising (but I'm sure not delivering) the subsidy necessary to allow the poor to buy it?

The whole system should be ditched, and renewed from scratch. The stench of corruption in the health-care reform debate is amazing.

What is the health care system like in Russia? Another good future post... except I know you aren't really writing a blog to encourage immigration to Russia. Or are you?