In the Russian scientific and technical community there are discussions about the role and place of the national astronautics, its future prospects. General opinion: the nation cannot abandon space research, cannot but claim a leading position in the world space program.
What is the Russian space industry today? In which direction should it be developed? What kind of breakthroughs can and should be made in the next two or three decades? We will discuss the topic with the Vice-President of the United Rocket and Space Corporation, general designer of manned programs (2007 - 2014) Vitaly Lopota.
Need a space exploration strategy
- Does Russia have a space exploration strategy? According to fragmentary reports about a particular launch (and not always successful), it seems that there is no strategy, but it all comes down to solving particular problems.
- We have the Law "On Space Activities". There is another document adopted in 2013, the “Fundamentals of the state policy of the Russian Federation in the field of space activities for the period up to 2030 and for the future”. But the strategy in these documents is not spelled out.
- What should it consist in, in your opinion?
- I think that the main strategic goals of the Russian cosmonautics should be national security, technological independence and the well-being of citizens. And the basic principles that should guide the implementation of space activities, in my opinion, are as follows: the protection of sovereign rights, opportunities and freedom of action in space; countering the implementation of space activities hostile to national interests; mutually beneficial cooperation with other states in the framework of the development and use of outer space; supporting the peaceful orientation of the space activities of other states; adherence to international legal mechanisms for resolving states' claims for sovereignty over areas of outer space, planets and other celestial bodies of the solar system; creation of manned space rocket complexes as a single interconnected system of rocket, space and ground segments.
- Can you also clearly articulate the main tasks of the national astronautics?
- I will try. It seems to me that one of these tasks is constant and unhindered access to space. To solve this problem, you need to create reliable, cheap and efficient vehicles, manned and unmanned. It is also necessary to create interorbital tugboats, special purpose space vehicles and ground-based space infrastructure.
Another important task is security from space and in space. To solve it, it is required to provide navigation, communications, monitoring of the Earth and outer space, counteract threats of a global scale from space (comet-asteroid and other hazards), protect space assets and ground infrastructure.
We will not be able to fly further than Mars in the coming decades. The moon, for example, is not yet available to us.
The tasks of the Russian cosmonautics also include: the advanced development of breakthrough technologies, which allow to receive priority in space activities; generation and accumulation of knowledge about the universe; education of engineering and intellectual potential of the nation; ensuring the prestige of the state; expanding the capabilities of the near-earth orbital manned space infrastructure (stations) for conducting scientific research, technical and technological development of rocket and space technologies, maintenance and repair of automatic space complexes, assembling large-sized structures for various purposes; long flights beyond low near-Earth orbits, including flights into the orbit of an artificial satellite of the Moon, to the libration points of the Earth-Moon system, to asteroids; landing on the surface of the moon and creating a planetary infrastructure for conducting research and generating new knowledge, as well as preparing for the exploration of the moon in the interests of human development in the long term; the creation of an interplanetary expeditionary complex and the implementation of a manned flight to Mars with a landing on the surface of the planet to ensure its research, etc.
- In the series of strategic goals of the Russian cosmonautics you named the well-being of citizens. Explain the connection here.
- It is the same as the connection between the weather forecast and the clothes you prefer to wear, knowing that today it will be cool and rainy or, on the contrary, hot and sunny. Or, say, you have a navigator installed in your car, you drive in an address, and this navigator takes you where you want, guided by satellite beacons that are in space. Issues of space navigation were worked out thirty years ago. We have repeatedly brought the grouping of satellites to more than 20 devices, but, unfortunately, the software and hardware that we use are made outside of Russia or on the components that we do together. Nevertheless, the orientation is coming from both American satellites and ours. As you can see, cosmonautics is a global area of activity.
Ideas have no nationality
- Is the Russian space industry sufficiently provided with budget financing?
- In my opinion, yes. And the structure of the industry itself is built logically. There is the Federal Space Agency - the federal executive body responsible for the implementation of space activities for scientific and national economic purposes. And there is the United Rocket and Space Corporation. These two structures complement each other and act in concert.
- And the international cooperation of Russia in space - is the current geopolitical situation probably not very conducive to it?
- Nevertheless, this cooperation continues and, I am sure, will continue. Going to fly into space, we must take on Earth all the best for this flight. Ideas have no nationality.
- The purpose of astronautics has changed a lot over the past half century?
- Of course. Astronautics gave us the generation of fundamental knowledge. We began to understand more, we are already not throwing caps on anyone, we are not declaring utopian ideas. Mankind today has the energy that it has and with which we will not be able to fly away from Mars in the coming decades. The moon, for example, is not yet available to us. To reach the surface of the moon with a crew of three, you need a rocket with a carrying capacity of at least 130 - 150 tons into lower orbit. Unfortunately, there are no such carriers today. And those carriers that are, do not allow this. Today we are creating 20 tons of rockets in lower orbit, in the near future we will reach 25 tons, but in order to fly to the Moon, we need masses in near-earth orbit 75 tons. And in order to land and fly back, you need to at least double this load capacity.
- Double load capacity purely technical problem?
- Rather, scientific and technical. Because cosmonautics today is the generation of new knowledge, more detailed and deep, about outer space on the basis of scientific research. But it is also a solution to a multitude of applied tasks: global communications and telecommunications, observation and monitoring of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, navigation, search and rescue in distress, etc.
Modern cosmonautics was born as a result of understanding the results of the first exploration of outer space, the possibilities that appeared and expanded in connection with the flights of artificial satellites of the Earth, automatic interplanetary probe stations, manned spacecraft and orbital near-earth stations carrying scientific and special target equipment on board. And today we need new knowledge about the world order of the Universe. This knowledge is also important for the safety and security of our civilization, for the use of space resources, as well as for the creation and development of the necessary technologies. Let's say, the main source of information about the vast spaces of the Universe is the spectrum of radiation, which we can fix by various physical and technical tools (sensors, complexes and instruments). Located on the surface of the Earth, they allow observations and measurements of the celestial sphere in a limited range of electromagnetic radiation: a wide range of radio waves, the optical range and the relatively narrow ultraviolet and infrared ranges adjacent to it. This does not allow for a comprehensive and objective investigation of all processes occurring in the Universe. When placing the corresponding physico-technical tools at altitudes greater than 160 km above the Earth, it becomes possible to observe and measure x-ray and gamma radiation. Gamma-radiation gives an idea of thermonuclear processes in the Universe, and x-rays on gravitational and other cataclysms in the life of the macroworld. Observations in the range of ultraviolet radiation indicate plasma processes in space, optical - visual observation, perceived by man, infrared - about thermal processes in the surrounding space. The information that radio waves bring is the "voice of the universe." Space radio waves of humanity has been studying for over a hundred years in the search for answers to exciting questions, including one of the most important about the possible existence of other developed civilizations in the Universe.
A special place in modern cosmonautics is occupied by the use of manned means and systems. It is in the manned cosmonautics that the most reliable and safe space technologies have always been born and developed. These are manned and uninhabited constructions in outer space, technologies for providing human life in a closed, protected volume and in open space, as well as breakthrough technologies for research and the generation of new knowledge. For example, the placement of the X-ray telescope at the Mir station and the research carried out with its help radically changed the entire system and depth of knowledge about the structure and content of the Universe.
Prevent comet-asteroid danger
- What is the state of Russian space science now?
- Knowledge of space is deep enough. They allow us to act with confidence in the solar system. But beyond Mars, with the help of manned space flight, we, as I have already said, do not fly away yet. Human interplanetary stations (AMC) "Pioneer" and "Voyager" mankind has already reached heliopause. These devices still work, transmit information. With their help, there is a constant study, the accumulation of knowledge about the universe.
A very serious question is comet-asteroid danger. Remember the incident that took place near Chelyabinsk last year, when a celestial body of about 20 meters with a speed of 30 kilometers per second entered the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded at high altitude (this explosion exceeded the destructive force of the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima). The comet-asteroid danger constantly threatens the terrestrial civilization, and humanity must always be ready for its reflection. It is necessary to continuously monitor the motion of the most dangerous comets and asteroids to determine the probability of their collisions with our planet. The monitoring can be carried out using the satellite space monitoring system located at the Lagrange points L3, L4, L5 of the Earth-Moon system.
In addition, astronautics will be able to provide future solutions to such important tasks as the elimination of the energy shortage of mankind by creating space power stations, improving the ecology of the Earth and the environment by taking out particularly hazardous industries outside the atmosphere.
- Why cosmonautics today more in demand in near-Earth space than in deep space?
- This is explained by the fact that the technologies for the exit of humanity into deep space are only being developed and are not yet ready for wide use. We are on the verge of new breakthrough space technologies. With their acquisition, the number of tasks in deep space will increase significantly.
We must be prepared for the possible containment of someone's aggressive intentions.
- The cosmic achievements of the Soviet era today are finding some use?
- Yes, they are actively used. We have the best engine-building and reliable spacecraft in manned programs in the world. The whole world today uses Russian manned spacecraft. But we need to take the next step forward, because in the USA, Europe and Japan several companies are already creating manned ships. In five or ten years, there will be a powerful competition in this market.
- Russia's activity in space is not inferior to the activity of the United States. But most of our launches are made in the interests of other countries. These are commercial launches. The provision of space services.
- The fact that we provide space transportation services to the whole world is nothing bad. It should be borne in mind that, while flying, we are developing the components of space technology that we need to develop the technology of the future. And in this we have a certain priority today.
- New Russia does not have such capabilities as the Soviet empire had. Maybe we should temper ambition, accept the fact that we are no longer a space power, and "ground ourselves" in every sense of the word?
- We cannot abandon space science, which feeds advanced technologies, we cannot stop the exploration of extraterrestrial space, we cannot fail to claim worldwide respect and recognition. The desire to explore the Universe in itself, apart from any other reasons, orders humanity to explore the cosmos. Here we take into account the issues of national security. Today, for example, the deployment of the US missile defense system can completely deprive our country weapons deterrence. I mean the Russian nuclear potential with the means of delivery. Having global means of observation, delivery, counteraction, we must be ready for the possible containment of aggressive intentions, no matter who they come from.
ISS - a unique testing ground for the development of future space technologies
- How do you see the further development of manned space flight?
- Manned space flight is a unique opportunity to develop space technologies in the future. About 22 - 23 percent of the federal space program of Russia is being spent on it now. Of course, more serious costs are required, and I want to note that the manned program is not unprofitable. Roscosmos successfully sells four astronaut chairs on the market every year - about 80 million dollars each. At various administrative levels, there is always the question: what is the need for manned space flight? How is it why? Yes, she gave birth to the entire cosmonautics! Everything that is being done in space today was created and perfected largely due to manned cosmonautics.
Piloted astronautics is a unique opportunity to develop space technologies in the future.
Today, the main technical base for improving a wide range of space technologies in real conditions is the International Space Station (ISS). Its dimensions are impressive: the length of solar panels is about 126 meters, the station width is about 70 meters. The ISS is an easily accessible (compared to interplanetary space), reliable, safe, well-equipped space experimental stand, the potential of which is used to develop promising technologies. The tasks of the ISS transport and technical support in recent years, after the American shuttles were decommissioned, are carried out only by Russian ships of the Progress and Soyuz type, ensuring the possibility of an emergency return of the station crew to Earth in the event of emergency situations on board. Providing the ISS with crews and cargo flows, in each flight we develop technologies that will provide Russia with the necessary competitive advantages. Our American partners have already fully developed their station segment and are effectively exploiting it for research. The infrastructure of the Russian segment for a number of reasons can only be created by 2018 - 2020. From this period it will be possible to carry out a full-fledged national scientific program in the unique integrated national scientific laboratory on the ISS. Now Russia, the USA, Europe, Canada and Japan have agreed on the operation of the station up to 2020, and the possibility of operating the ISS up to 2024 is being discussed. The ISS is a unique orbital testing ground for future space technologies.
- What is the cosmonaut squad today? How many people are there? Are there many people willing to fly to space?
- There are about forty people in the cosmonaut corps. All of them passed the competitive selection. We support the number of astronauts, which corresponds to our technical capabilities. Of course, the technology that is being created now requires that research professionals begin to fly into space. And there is something to work on.
- From the point of view of priorities in space exploration, flight to Mars is the number one task?
- This is the maximum task that we can solve at the level of energy and technology that we have. This is a ship that must accelerate and fly away with the second cosmic velocity, overcoming the earth's gravity. And in order to overcome it and gain a foothold in orbit, we accelerate to the speed of 7,8 kilometers per second and remain in orbit. To fly from the orbit of the Earth to the Moon or somewhere further, we must add another 3,8 kilometers per second. Everything needs energy. And in order to return to Earth from the second cosmic velocity, the ship must protect people from intense heat when rubbed against the dense layers of the atmosphere. At the first cosmic velocity, the surface of the space descent vehicle is heated to 2,5 by thousands of degrees, and at the second, by more than 3 thousands of degrees. The surface of the returned spacecraft must withstand such a large heating and everything must be thought out here.
Sledy ancient river on Mars
If we talk about priorities in the flights to the near relative to the Earth, the celestial bodies of the Solar System, then preference should be given to Mars. Although deserves attention and the Moon as a testing ground for the development of deep space. Scientists and engineers of the leading rocket and space corporations of the world, having considered various options for possible space expansion of a person in the coming decades, agreed on its "roadmap." The Road Map provides for the implementation of one of two scenarios for the advancement of mankind into space: "Earth - asteroids - Moon - Mars" or "Earth - Moon - asteroids - Mars". This ideology is being worked out. The process of elaboration is also influenced by the statements of leaders of some states, for example, in the USA, the possibility of an initial flight to an asteroid is being studied. From the point of view of design and technological support of missions, a more promising and consistent way is to create a technique for Martian use. The moon here is considered primarily as an object of research, allowing to work out the technology of the planned exploration of Mars.
- How soon, in your opinion, can take place flight to Mars?
- It will take at least ten to fifteen years to approach the solution of this task, which should be inscribed in the scenario of the further evolutionary development of Russian cosmonautics.