TASS News Agency. Vladimir SOLNTSEV: Its not only the US that are interested in flying on Soyuz

May 2, 2017

Vladimir SOLNTSEV Russia is planning to continue delivering foreign astronauts onboard Soyuz to the International Space Station (ISS). In addition to professional astronauts, space tourists may become passengers of the legendary space vehicles.

Talking to the TASS News Agency about the future of the Russian Soyuz space vehicles, a cargo version of the vehicle, and contracts with Boeing was the general director of the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia Vladimir Solntsev.

- There have been reports that a contract has been signed to deliver US astronauts to the ISS on Soyuz spacecraft under a contract between RSC Energia and Boeing. One astronaut will fly in the fall of 2017, another in the spring of 2018, three more seats are reserved for 2019. Are there any plans to deliver US astronauts after 2019? Are we going to revert to the practice of flying two Russians and one foreigner in a Soyuz spacecraft after that? What do you know about NASAs plans?

- To a larger extent, this question should be addressed to NASA. Station safety dictates that each spacecraft has at least one representative from the other segment of the ISS. That is, the Russian Soyuz should carry an astronaut capable of servicing the US segment, while the US spacecraft Dragon or Starliner should each carry a cosmonaut to service the Russian segment. Unfortunately, no agreement on this has been signed as yet. There are also plenty of questions about the readiness of the US commercial vehicles, especially with respect to their safety certification for manned missions.

NASA has plans to start test flights of commercial crew transportation spacecraft to the ISS in 2018, and in 2019 to proceed with operational missions, with nominal operations. These are very ambitious plans. They will need to man-rate the Atlas and Falcon launch vehicles, to verify the performance, reliability and safety of the Dragon and Starliner spacecraft themselves at all mission phases, among other things, to certify their launch escape systems, and, finally, to demonstrate their safe docking, operations when attached to the ISS, and undocking from the ISS.

It would make sense for NASA to draw up an ISS-program-level document on the safety of international crew missions on the Dragon and the Starliner, to be concurred by all the partners. Until this is done, it would be too early to include missions of these spacecraft in the ISS program.

- If in the end Boeing does not take up the 2019 option, who these three seats in Soyuzes will be offered to? Will they go to Russian cosmonauts, tourists, other foreign agencies?

- We are certain that 2019 option will be taken up. In view of the risks of the commercial crew transportation program, NASA will certainly be interested in exercising the option. This is not so much a commercial issue, as the issue of keeping the ISS program running, because, without US astronauts onboard, it would be virtually impossible to control and maintain the three-hundred-ton US segment. At the same time we are now in talks with potential clients, and we believe that even in the unlikely case of NASA not taking up the option, we will be able to find those who wish to fly to the ISS in 2019.

- Conversely, might there be additional contracts signed for 2020 and onwards?

- Yes, surely there might be. We have several customers. I wouldnt like to publicize their intentions without their consent, but I can confirm that some very intensive negotiating is under way.

I hope well find all the necessary solutions and compromises, and in the nearest future we'll sign all the necessary agreements. In view of the fact that the lead time for manufacturing and launching a Soyuz spacecraft is about three years, it is desirable for the contracts for 2020 missions to be signed in 2017.

- If US, starting in 2019, switch to using commercial spacecraft for transporting astronauts to the ISS, will the number of Soyuz spacecraft launched to the ISS be reduced down to two?

- If this happens in 2019, the number of Soyuzes from 2020 on will be determined not only by the government contracts (two spacecraft per year), but also by commercial contracts. We are planning to keep the rate of Soyuz launches at the level of four per year, including two launches for the government and two commercial launches.

- Will Soyuz MS spacecraft still be in use after Federatsiya spacecraft is put into service? How much longer the operation of Soyuz will continue?

- It is obvious that Soyuz MS will be used until the end of the ISS program (2024) and until the Federatsiya spacecraft enters into service (at about the same time). A lot depends on the launch vehicle.

If Federatsiya spacecraft is launched on Angara 5P launch vehicle, the mission cost will be fairly high, and the cost of launch per one cosmonaut will not be lower than for Soyuz MS. In that case, additional funding would be required, if we stop using Soyuz MS.

RSC Energia proposes to develop the launch vehicle Phoenix, which will be superior to the Zenit and Falcon launch vehicles in engineering and economic terms. With such a launch vehicle the mission cost for the Federatsiya spacecraft will be about the same as the cost of a Soyuz MS mission. No additional funding will be required. Considering that Federatsiya can deliver to the ISS a crew of four (and, if need be, of six), it is evident that replacing Soyuz MS with Federatsiya (upon completion of flight development tests on the new spacecraft) would make sense.

- Is it possible that Soyuz will once again be redesigned in the future for a specific application like space tourism or returning cargoes from orbit?

- We are looking into, for example, a cargo return spacecraft. To make commercial flights on Soyuz MS more attractive, we use the quick four-orbit rendezvous and docking profile (six hours instead of two days).

Now our specialists are working on developing a two-orbit docking profile, which will be even more comfortable for cosmonauts and tourists. During the first 24-hour period the human body is getting adapted to zero gravity, and the person doesnt feel very well, to put it mildly. It is better to get through the docking quickly and be unwell in the comfortable environment of the ISS, rather than in a confined spacecraft. In 2018 we are planning to try flying without the flight engineer onboard, and from 2019 we are planning to make it the standard operational practice. There will be one commander onboard to provide spacecraft control, and two spaceflight participants.

- How does RSC Energia view Elon Musks plans to send a spacecraft with tourists to fly around the Moon? RSC Energia has been making similar proposals for many years now. Arent you afraid that Musk will carry out this project ahead of you? The market for such missions is limited, have any potential customers who showed interest in Energias project gone over to Musk?

- I think that they still trust us more. We have 141 manned launches under our belt. Competition is useful, it provides a good motivation to improve a project for the benefit of the customers.

As for the state of affairs specifically at Elon Musks company, it would be difficult to carry out such a mission in 2018, and even in 2020. Nobody has yet even seen the designs. Theres no launch vehicle, no spacecraft.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft designed for missions to the ISS, and Falcon 9 launch vehicle are a far cry from a spacecraft and a rocket that are needed for a mission towards the Moon. What is needed is a man-rated launch vehicle, 5 to 10 times bigger than what is flying now, a spacecraft capable of reentering the Earth atmosphere with escape velocity after returning from a circumlunar mission, an upper stage that serves as a tug to accelerate the spacecraft and send it towards the Moon, etc. All this requires time and money, we are still in a better position. Time will tell.

- Will the medium launch vehicle proposed by RSC Energia within the framework of the R&D project Phoenix be expendable or have some reusable elements (what exactly will be reusable)? Is it going to have, like the Zenit launch vehicle, an automatic prelaunch processing system unique to Soviet/Russian launch vehicles? What are the facilities where this rocket is going to be assembled? What will be the differences between the versions of this rocket for different launch sites - Vostochny, Baiterek and Sea Launch?

- The launch vehicle will be expendable, at least in the initial phase. The architecture of the suite of automated systems for controlling the prelaunch processing and launch will be similar to what was used for Zenit. The launch vehicle is going to be assembled at Progress plant in Samara. The launch vehicles are to be the same for all launch sites.

The reusability of rocket stages needs to be additionally justified. To assure precise landing and subsequent re-use of the first stage, you need to install special controls, including rocket thrusters, onboard computers, a navigation system, and expend additional propellant. As a result, the savings here are minimal, or none at all. We believe that what we need to strive for is reducing impact areas for jettisonable elements by converging them towards a single point. The expenditures here are low, and the gain is obvious. Its unrealistic to think of re-using the second stage, which returns to Earth with a velocity that is close to the orbital velocity. Without a proper thermal shield capable of withstanding the heat of up to 3000 degrees Centigrade, the only pieces that will reach the ground will be thick metal frames.

- The internet already abounds with illustrations showing a possible configuration of a circumlunar station, both RSC Energia and Boeing presented their projects at various conferences. Is there an understanding of what it will be like? What is to be built by us, and what by other partners?

- A basic understanding of the international circumlunar station configuration and orbit has been achieved. Partner contributions are being discussed. Currently, we have agreed with Boeing to continue joint work on the architecture of this station and on the configuration of its modules.

Of course, what is needed are political decisions to take part in the international program and decisions by governments to allocate appropriate funds. What is required for this is a clear understanding of the program objectives, tasks and phases, of the results we expect to achieve, and of the risks that may have to be overcome. We already have the experience of the ISS and we are going to capitalize on it. But the Moon sets us different terms: greater autonomy, radiation, significantly higher costs of launches, etc.

We hope that during this year some basic outlines of an international program may emerge, and heads of agencies might be able to make an announcement about it.


Interviewed by Dmitri Strugovets



ROSCOSMOS Press Service




June 14, 2017
The launch of LV Soyuz-2.1a with SC Progress MS-06 is planned.
April 20, 2017
LV Soyuz-FG with SC Soyuz MS-04 is launched.

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