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Russia’s space momentum

By Sergei Haustov

Spacecraft and space stations, satellites and navigation systems – we have stopped viewing these things as something extraordinary a long time ago. Lately, even space tourism ceased to be something out science fiction novels: if you have big money, you are welcome to fly and enjoy a bird’s eye view of our planet, nay, a spaceman’s eye view.
But back then, on April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin was launched into space saying his famous words "Off we go!" the entire planet held its breath in awe. The space is conquered! Man has broken the bonds of Earth’s gravity!
Nowadays, quite a number of people already go to the impossible height and do there a tremendous work, overcoming zero gravity and blazing the trail to stars. Even more people work on the ground to make sure that the spacecraft can plow the ocean of space. Companies in this line of work are especially numerous in our region, which is justly considered as the production base of the Russian space industry.
And, who knows, maybe, through their efforts, the stars will eventually become more accessible for people like you and me.

Spaceship builders from Korolev

On April 7, a manned spacecraft Soyuz TMA-10 was launched from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan. It delivered to orbit our one hundredth fellow countryman in space. The pilot cosmonaut No.100 in our country is Oleg Kotov who flew to ISS together with Fyodor Yurchikhin and Charles Simonyi from US. Almost all of our ‘stellar’ one hundred, and some of them more than once, were launched in spacecraft built in the Moscow Region. The place where the Russian space fleet is born is Energia Corporation in the town of Korolev.
On the eve of the Cosmonautics Day (Gagarin flight anniversary), the President and General Designer of the S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, Nikolai SEVASTIYANOV talked about the prospects for the future development of this renowned company.

RSC Energia picture

Nikolai Nikolaevich, tell us how the spacecraft are born?

Construction of one Soyuz or of one Progress logistics spacecraft takes about two years. Dozens of subcontractors work together with RSC Energia. This means thousands of designers, engineers, technicians and workers whose labor is integrated in the Energia workshops. By the way, these workshops are special. Inside them, an almost medical cleanliness is maintained. In the rooms where the spacecraft are assembled the air is replaced several times a day and is blown through powerful filters. All this is done to make sure that no speck of dust could ever get in the way of fine tuning of the on-board systems.
After Soyuzes and Progresses leave our assembly shops, a new phase in their life begins – the spacecraft are deliverd to Baikonur, where numerous teams of specialist over a period of several months prepare the spacecraft and the launch vehicles for launch. RSC Energia has a branch office at Baikonur. Large teams of our specialists are sent to Kazakhstan for the time of the launches.

Starting with Gagarin’s Vostok, and later on Voskhod and the first Soyuz spacecraft, the basic configuration of the spacecraft developed under Sergei Korolev virtually has not changed. Is RSC Energia ready to propose something new in this area?

Firstly, the spacecraft are continuously upgraded. This can even be seen from the designations of the manned vehicles. First it was Soyuz, then Soyuz T, Soyuz TM, now it’s Soyuz TMA. Figuratively speaking, the first Soyuzes are just as much different from today’s spacecraft as the cars of the 50s differ from present-day models. And this work still goes on.
RSC Energia is developing a program to build a new-generation space transportation system Clipper based on state-of-the-art digital technologies. The work is to be done by stages. The first stage consists in a deep upgrade of the Soyuz spacecraft, which will significantly improve its performance and result in a certain increase in payload volume.
The new spacecraft, assisted by upper stages, will even be able to take cosmonauts to the Moon and back to Earth. A special version of such a Soyuz using the upgraded launch vehicle Soyuz-2 could be launched not only from Baikonur, but from launch site at Kourou in French Guiana as well. Such a possibility has already been considered by Roskosmos and the European Space Agency.
The second stage will consist in developing a radically new space transportation system that will include the reusable spacecraft Clipper. We believe that this system will impart a new quality to the Russian manned space program. This spacecraft differs from its predecessors in that it has a so-called "winged" configuration.
I’m convinced that the right thing to do would be to have by 2015 both Soyuzes with augmented capabilities, including the capability to fly to the Moon, and the Clipper. This system will provide support to the complex industrial space facilities, which we expect to be quite numerous by that time.
There is one more very important argument for not putting of the development of the new system. The fact is that the Europeans are now developing their "Jules Vern" or ATV spacecraft. The Japanese are building HTV. The US started developing their Orion spacecraft, which is to replace the obsolete Space Shuttles after 2009. Not to mention the Chinese space program, which is progressing by leaps and bounds, aiming at establishing by 2030 a Chinese manned scientific base on the Moon. In contrast to this, Russia still has not made a decision to develop a new spacecraft. If the decision is delayed by two more years, Russia may loose its leading positions in the world’s manned space flight.

But maybe it would be more important to focus on unmanned space stations and robotic spacecraft and channel the resources there?

No one is going to call in question the fact that the industrialization of near-Earth space using unmanned systems, such as satellites for communication, remote sensing, and navigation, is very important. These systems meet the needs of the ground industry, transportation, and, in the final analysis, of you and me. Still, the development of the manned component in the exploration of space is no less important. Both unmanned and manned systems need to be developed.
Specialists know that today the mankind has reached a certain limit in the development of unmanned space systems as far as payloads go. We are now at the threshold of constructing large industrial facilities in space needed to develop new technologies and obtain new materials in zero gravity. And already in servicing these systems it is impossible to do without man.
A classic example is the US space telescope Hubble. This expensive astrophysical lab in orbit helped US scientists to make many scientific discoveries. But when the robotic telescope failed, a manned spacecraft Shuttle had to be sent to repair it, and the crew cleared the fault. Now the telescope is once again operational. To do some additional tuning-up of the Hubble telescope, NASA has scheduled one more Shuttle mission to it.
Thus, man in space is indispensable. Our cosmonauts joke about this: man in space is needed for at least one reason – to correct errors made by robots.

That’s OK, but are the missions to the Moon and Mars really necessary?

Unfortunately, the currently adopted Federal Space Program till 2015 does not provide for a lunar program. At the same time, stage-by-stage plans for lunar exploration have already been officially announced by USA, European countries, China, India, and Japan. In the opinion of scientists from these countries, the implementation of these advanced programs will allow an independent access to space in the interests of security, getting access to new power-generation and other resources, as well as give a powerful impetus to development of both pure and applied sciences, education, renovation of industry and technological assets.
So, why should Russia lag behind other countries on this path? After all, our country opened the road to space to others. We still have a chance to remain a space power. It will be extremely unreasonable if we don’t make use of the existing experience. RSC Energia designers and engineers are today studying issues involved in preparation for manned missions to the Moon and Mars.

They say that even Americans have gotten in line for the Soyuzes now?

It is true that there are negotiations going on between Roscosmos and NASA about buying from Russia several Soyuz spacecraft. Energia corporation participates in these negotiations as the technical integrator. NASA will need our spacecraft after 2009, when Space Shuttle retires and the Space Station is completely assembled and enters into its full-fledged operation. The crew of the space station will grow from its current crew of three to six. Under these conditions, which will continue until at least 2012-2014 when US will have created its Orion spacecraft, only Soyuzes and Progresses will be able to support ISS operation.
NASA has already ordered two Progresses for the years 2007-2008. During these years, our cargo vehicles are to deliver the total of about five tons of various cargoes for the US segment of the ISS.
NASA is expected to place orders with Roscosmos for two Soyuzes and two Progresses each year for the period of 2009-2011. For RSC Energia this means that we will have to switch from producing 5-6 of these spacecraft a year to 10-11 a year. To achieve this, we must expand our production facilities. In two years we will accomplish this work.

RSC Energia picture

It looks like RSC Energia is going to have its hands full for the next few years. Will the corporation be able to cope with the new tasks?

Yes, it will. Not only Energia builds and launches manned Soyuz and unmanned Progress spacecraft, it is also responsible for the construction and operation of the Russian Segment of the International Space Station, builds communication and TV broadcast satellites Yamal, upper stages Block DM, which assist in getting satellites into high and geostationary orbits. For example, per our plans, we are to build 118 upper stages Block DM by 2015.
In 2007, the corporation plans to carry out 6 launches under manned space program and it participates in eight launches under other projects. The long-term manufacturing program for the years 2006-2015 has been drawn up. By as early as 2009 we are planning to double output of not only Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, but satellites and upper stages as well. For this purpose, it is planned to invest 1 billion 788 million rubles into upgrading and expanding production facilities.
In 2006 our economic indexes put us into a leading position in the industry. As compared with 2005, the revenue of the corporation with 15 thousand employees grew by 38%, and the net profit exceeded 500 million rubles. The market price of one share in the RSC Energia’s stock grew from three to eight thousand rubles in one year between two shareholders’ meetings.
Social problems are being successfully solved, the average salary at the company has grown.

Are there any staffing problems?

The same as in the rest of the industry. But we are trying to solve this problem. In addition to wages, there are other factors that affect staffing. For example, we have introduced programs for non-governmental pension support and voluntary medical insurance. Now every worker can have his or her medical treatment paid for. The housing problem is also being addressed. We are developing a program for young specialists. We are implementing a new approach to our cooperation with colleges. Students in their third or fourth year come to us as trainees, get involved in a project and thus begin their work at our company.
We are going to invite about 500 trainee students a year. After they earn their diplomas, about every fifth of them will be hired. And naturally, we are going to hire those who are dedicated to their work.

Thank you for your interview. Congratulations on Cosmonautics Day!

Podmoskovi. Nedelya weekly No.14 (310)
April 11, 2007

 

 

 

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