Despite the recent accident of the Proton-M launch vehicle, active work continues in the framework of the Russian space program. For example, as it became known the other day, this year the cosmonauts currently working on the International Space Station (ISS) will receive spacesuits of the new model of the Orlan family. In addition to such updates related to the improvement of current projects, the Russian space industry is also making plans for the future. Already, scientists and engineers are opening new projects that will be implemented in the future.
On Tuesday, July 16, the head of the Russian part of the ISS project V. Soloviev spoke about the plans of the space industry for the future. In the foreseeable future, it is planned to create a new module for the ISS, which will ensure the implementation of a number of auxiliary tasks. Like the existing components of the International Space Station, the new unit will become the base for various research projects, but at the same time it will be entrusted with several new and so far unusual tasks. It is assumed that the new part of the ISS will also become a service and test point for various spacecraft.
This means that, if necessary, the crew of the updated ISS will have to check the operation of various spacecraft and, possibly, repair them. Also in the existing plans there is an item on the possibilities of using the station as a refueling base for vehicles heading to other planets. In the future, it will be necessary to create similar objects on the Moon or on Mars, but so far we are talking only about an auxiliary base station in Earth orbit.
An interesting fact is that work is already underway to create such a block for the ISS. RSC Energia has already started a corresponding project and is currently working on the main issues. The exact dates for the completion of the project and the launch of the first module of the new specialization, for objective reasons, have not yet been announced. The project is in its early stages and therefore it is too early to talk about the exact date of its implementation. Likewise, it is probably too early to talk about the specific appearance of the future part of the ISS. Nevertheless, even with such a volume of information, certain conclusions can be drawn.
From the words of V. Solovyov it follows that the new module will, to a certain extent, be similar to the existing ones in the ISS, but at the same time it will receive a number of special equipment that is not available on the existing ones. First of all, these are some technical means intended for refueling spacecraft and vehicles. Probably, the updated International Station will receive fuel storage tanks, as well as some equipment for transferring it to the refueled ship. Thanks to such equipment, the implementation of some space programs may be simplified in the future. For example, it will be possible to divide the preparation for a manned spacecraft flight to the Moon or Mars into several stages. So, the launch vehicle, on board of which the spacecraft with the astronauts will be located, will not have to launch into space even the supply of fuel necessary for a long flight. The fuel and oxidizer can be delivered in advance to the auxiliary orbital station and with its help refuel the ship itself before being sent to the target.
In this context, one can recall the famous science fiction film "Armageddon". Recall, heading to the asteroid, the planet's drillers and rescuers made an intermediate stop at the space station, refueled and continued on their way. Despite the numerous conventions and assumptions of this film, the plot move with refueling in orbit looks quite real. Moreover, now, as is clear from the statements of the leadership of the Russian space industry, scientists and designers have started to test this idea and develop the appearance of systems that could provide a procedure for refueling spacecraft in orbit.
At the same time, the technical complexity of such a project is obvious. In its justification, we can say that under certain conditions, refueling vehicles in orbit can simplify and reduce the cost of some aspects of space flights. First of all, a prerequisite for reducing the cost will be the absence of the need to send one "flight" and a heavy apparatus like the American ships of the Apollo line, and the corresponding supply of fuel for it. Under certain circumstances, it will be possible to divide the payload of one large and heavy launch vehicle into several parts (fuel supply and, depending on the tasks, several modules of the spacecraft itself), which will be delivered into orbit not simultaneously, but in turn, by several rockets with lower starting weight and lower cost. Finally, in this way it will be possible to prepare complex spacecraft for long-range flight, the overall dimensions and weight of which exceed the capabilities of all existing launch vehicles.
It should be noted that the above are only reflections on the possible appearance and application of the new module for the International Space Station. Official information about this project so far boils down to a few phrases of the most general nature. Therefore, due to the fact that the project is at the earliest stages, as a result, the updated base station may either not meet expectations or exceed them. Apparently, in the near future, work will continue to shape the appearance of a promising orbital module, and new information about this project may appear only in a few months or even years. Nevertheless, even with the existing lack of information, the project looks very interesting and promising.