It is far from the best of times for the Russian space program, as budget realities conflict with that nation’s lunar ambitions. Following optimistic projections last year that it was working towards a 2025 launch date for a lunar circumnavigation mission to be carried out by the planned Angara A5B heavy lift vehicle, a draft budget released on December 24th indicated that the date would be pushed back into the second half of the next decade.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the booster’s development is being pushed back as well:
“Russia’s space authority, Roskosmos, has extended to the Khrunichev space centre the term for work on Angara-A5B heavy-class carrier, which would be able to bring space apparatuses to the Moon, a source at the space sector told TASS on Saturday. “Technical aspects are mostly finalised, but we were still to consider additionally the cooperation aspects, as well as additional decisions on launches of the Angara-class carriers from one launch pad,” the source said. The Angara-A5B was supposed to be used for launching a manned spacecraft to the trajectory of flight to the Moon, he said. The Angara project is most important from the point of view of Russia’s share in the global market of launch services, since practically all space countries continue or begin work on heavy-class carriers. Under the programme, the ground experiments involving the Angara-A5B carrier rocket are to be completed in 2025. No test flights are being planned for an earlier date.”
In what could portent a scheduling headache lasting for years, Russian officials also announced last week that due to budget cuts, it will only be building a single launch facility to host all versions of the Angara booster at its far eastern Vostochny spaceport. The Angara is a modular booster family based around the single core Universal Rocket Module (URM) powered by the RD-191 main engine. The heavy lift version which would perform crewed launches to both ISS and lunar space consist of 4 URM’s arrayed around a central core. While Russia has conducted two test launches of the Angara already, including a December 2014 orbital flight of the A5, it still needs to develop a cryogenic upper stage engine to support deep space missions, and that appears to be one of the key factors slowing the schedule.
Also under development is a new crew and cargo system to replace the very aged Soyuz/Progress series which has served Russia for decades. Last week, the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos announced that the new system, which would eventually host lunar missions in its deep space variant would be named Federation. Not that Federation, mind you. Although forward looking space names have always been popular, for example Boeing’s recent decision to apply the name “Starliner” to the CST-100 capsule whose ambitions are limited to low Earth orbit, Russia is not giving in to such flights of fancy. In this case, Federation simply refers to the Russian federation itself, with individual craft likely to be named for different regions.
On a related but perhaps somewhat dubious note, Russia is boasting that development of the Federation will be “3.5 times cheaper than US Dragon.”
“The funds for the project to develop the new manned spacecraft called Federation are stipulated in a draft federal space program for 2016-2025 prepared for submission to the Russian government. Under the document, 58 billion rubles will be spent on R&D work to develop the ‘promising manned transport system’ through 2025, or 8 billion rubles ($101 million) less than was planned last year. As was reported earlier, SpaceX will receive $2.6 billion from NASA to develop the Dragon 2 manned spaceship. Meanwhile, the development of the new Russian space vehicle will cost just $734 million.”
Meanwhile, Boeing, whose Commercial Crew development award ran to $4.2 billion, is never mentioned. Neither is NASA’s Orion, perhaps because there aren’t enough rubles in the world to account for its cost. Say what you want about Russia’s space ambitions, at least its got the right yardstick.