Russia’s Lunar Ambitions Following an American Path Not Taken

Angara-A5V Credit: Russian Defense Ministry/TASS

Credit: Russian Defense Ministry/TASS

Is Russia following a path the American space program could have taken?

A story in the Russian news agency TASS outlines a lunar exploration program which seems to draw on many of the lessons recently learned, but not applied by NASA for its own “Journey to Mars.”

The program, which has yet to be funded, would see Russia base its lunar ambitions on a heavy lift version of the Angara booster it hopes will replace the aged Proton as that nation’s premier commercial carrier. As described, Russia would use an Earth orbit assembly to couple cryogenic propulsion modules to both a lunar descent/ascent craft, as well as to a separate departure/return capsule. The two would then meet in lunar orbit for crew transfer to the surface. A separate mission would see a lunar habitation module, described as a “base” launched in similar fashion.

The base would presumably be re-used by separate crews, meaning that follow-on missions could be undertaken utilizing four launches, or see the base expanded with six. Each dual launch would see one Angara-A5V lift off from Plesetsk, in the far north, while a similar rocket would blast off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the far east.

Standing in stark contrast to current U.S. plans to utilize ever larger versions of the Space Launch System to pursue a long term “Journey to Mars,” one that might not see a landing until some time in the 2040’s at best, the Russian concept would see nearer term landings built around what is intended to become a frequently flying commercial workhorse. In other words, it is a plan more than a little similar to those proposed by Golden Spike company as well as others, which would see U.S. medium and heavy lift commercial boosters serve as the framework for an expanding program of lunar exploration.  Somewhat ironically, the Russian plan comes on the same week NASA is poised to demonstrate the resilience and flexibility of a commercial strategy through today’s launch of the Orbital ATK OA-4 resupply mission to the International Space Station aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Posted in: Moon, Russian Space

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