A Joint Russian/American Lunar Misson

A Payload for SLS? Credit: RussianSpaceWeb/Popular Mechanics

A Payload for SLS?
Credit: RussianSpaceWeb/Popular Mechanics

The possibility of a joint U.S./Russian lunar program coming together in the late 2020’s is beginning to look like a viable options for the post ISS era. If by chance national space ambitions are not trumped by NewSpace accomplishments sometime in the next ten years, which is a distinct possibility, budget realities and changing fortunes could draw significant components of the American and Russian space programs closer together.

While NASA is publicly focused on developing the Space Launch System and Orion capsule for its highly touted “Journey to Mars,” the agency has yet to develop a concrete plan for doing so. Moreover, in addition to higher performance versions of the mega booster itself, the agency also lacks other critical elements such as a habitation module for what would likely be a two year round trip journey to the vicinity of the Red Planet. Notice the word vicinity,  as landers, ascent vehicles and surface habs are not even in the picture at the moment. In other words, even if the agency manages to stay the course through multiple new administrations, its journey is going to be a long one.

So what to do in the meantime?

If Russian space observer Anatoly Zak is correct, providing the booster for a new Russian lunar lander could be one option. Zak describes the system, which cash strapped Russia would like to launch late in the next decade using multiple flights of the Angara-5, in Popular Mechanics.

“As envisioned by Russian engineers, the human-rated lander would consist of the 11-ton descent stage carrying landing gear and the propulsion system responsible for the trip from lunar orbit to the surface. In the meantime, the 8.5-ton ascent stage will contain the crew cabin with all the life-support gear and the engine to blast off from the lunar surface and to get back to the orbit around the Moon. It will also sport an electricity-producing solar panel and a radiator.

The cabin will have two hatches, one in the front of the module leading to a surface ladder and another in the docking port at the top, for the crew transfer between the lunar module and the transport spacecraft, when they are docked.”

Given that the Angara is slated to be Russia’s flagship rocket for some time to come, and will fly in multiple configurations from light to heavy with a strong commercial presence, its deployment is a necessity. A lunar lander on the other hand, might be considered more of a luxury the world’s first spacefaring nation may or may not be able to afford. Deferring development of the Angara’s deep space upper stage, as well as the four flights required to mount each lunar mission, might create the funding wedge necessary to afford such a luxury.

Going my way? Credit: NASA

Going my way?
Credit: NASA

At the same time, based on reports of a recent “all hands” meeting at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA is having difficulty finding and funding payloads for SLS beyond its first three flights. Consequently, an arrangement which sees the U.S. provide launch and crew transfer aboard SLS and Orion to lunar orbit for rendezvous with a Russian lander and ascent craft could serve the needs of both national space agencies during a time when they may be struggling to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world.

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1 Comment on "A Joint Russian/American Lunar Misson"

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  1. PK Sink says:

    So…the U.S. does the heavy lifting, and the Russians get the international attention as they land on the Moon. I’m not too sure if that’s gonna fly. But, as you noted, it may all be irrelevant when commercial space really gets rolling.

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