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Interview with Igor Khamits

June 23, 2020

Since 2009 Russian has been developing a new spacecraft the main objective of which will be to deliver Russian cosmonauts to the Moon. The first unmanned mission of Orel, thats how the spacecraft was christened, is scheduled for 2023. In 2025 it is supposed to lift-off carrying people onboard for the first time, and in 2029, as reported earlier, to take first cosmonauts to circumlunar orbit.

Not much time remains before the missions will start. The current status of the spacecraft development, how long its flight tests will last, is there any place in it for composite materials, and the fact that Orel will never sink in water, were the subjects covered in the interview which was given to the Russian information Agency Novosti by the chief designer for the development of the new-generation crew transportation spacecraft Igor Khamits.

***

— A few days ago you were appointed the chief designer for the new spacecraft. Could you please tell us about the current status of the Orel spacecraft?

— Currently we are completing the publication of the working design documentation, concurrently with it work continues on manufacturing and testing of individual structural elements, instruments and assemblies of the spacecraft. For example, we have recently tested a new rappelling device for it. Of course, the pace of the work needs to be sped up as much as possible: we have a deadline to launch the unmanned version of this spacecraft in 2023 from Vostochny launch site, and as early as in 2025 it is already supposed to carry a crew. At the same time, you have to reckon with the production cycle, we need to run the full cycle of developmental tests on the vehicle. Without it, a manned launch is, of course, out of question. We cannot risk peoples lives.

— Will the first spacecraft be equipped with all the standard systems of the series-produced spacecraft, or will it just be a mockup?

— We expect that during the first launch Orel will be outfitted with all the standard flight systems. Moreover, we, with our colleagues, are considering installing additional research equipment. This would significantly enhance the available empirical data needed for simulating the return of the crewed spacecraft from the lunar missions.

— What kind of body is Orel going to end up with the one made of aluminum or of composite materials? If it is going to be made of composites, where is it going to be built, considering the fact that a shop that was built in Germany some time ago can no longer deliver the structures to Russia because of sanctions

— I wouldnt like to go into the subject of suppliers, thats a pretty sore issue, and not only for space industry alone. I can only say that the body of the propulsion compartment will be made of composite materials. The body of the habitable compartment of the reentry vehicle of the spacecraft will be made of metal.

— The launches of spacecraft both into orbit and to the Moon are planned from Vostochny launch site. How are you going to transport the spacecraft to the launch site? What railroad cars or aircraft does it fit into?

— The spacecraft compartments will be transported to the launch site, that is to Vostochny, in pieces, and then specialists will be putting them together. As for the delivery, there are several options: both by rail in containers on a platform, and by air using An-124-100 cargo aircraft. The latter option makes it possible to deliver the cargo more quickly, by rail it will take longer. We will be using this or that option depending on the circumstances.

— To what extent the adaptation of Orel to the heavy launch vehicle Angara and of Angara to Orel has been completed?

— The work to integrate the spacecraft with the above rocket is under way. The preliminary design for the space system Angara/Advanced Crew Transportation Spacecraft Orel, which includes the work to integrate the launch vehicle with the spacecraft are to be completed in the first half of 2021.

— Are there any plans to launch Orel on Angara to test the emergency escape system?

— Certainly. Without that, one cannot talk about the spacecraft properly entering service.

— The flight path to orbit goes over the Pacific Ocean. How do you go about search and rescue of the Orel crew in case of their landing on water? For how long and at what sea state the spacecraft will be able to maintain positive buoyancy?

— The reentry vehicle does have positive buoyancy. In case of a splashdown the crew is to wait for the search and rescue team, for which purpose the communications equipment and reentry vehicle systems will be able to support radio communications for 48 hours. The work to develop crew search and rescue system will be done within the framework of the above preliminary design.

— Orel is designed for missions to the Moon. But to land on the lunar surface, you will need an ascent/descent module. Is such a spacecraft being developed?

— To land a man on the lunar surface we plan to use the stack of the spacecraft and the lunar ascent/descent module in the orbit of an artificial Moon satellite. At present, systems studies on the development of both such a module and the mission as a whole are under way.

— What are the current flight test plans for Orel? How many launches will be needed to complete all systems tests?

— To conduct tests it is planned to build a series of full-scale mockups of the advanced transportation spacecraft and its components. The program calls for three launches into a low earth orbit.

— Is there any program of further missions after completion of tests (Im talking about regular missions to the ISS or any other station, missions to the Moon)?

— In accordance with the statement of work, the advanced transportation spacecraft is being developed for missions into low Earth orbit and to the lunar orbit. Missions to low Earth orbit will be launched on Angara. To go to the lunar orbit, a super-heavy launch vehicle is being developed. The program of missions to circumlunar orbit will be provided, according to the established procedure, by the Federal Space Program after 2025. It is already being drawn up by our specialists and specialists from Roscosmos.

— Is Orel going to be adapted to Soyuz-5 launch vehicle on which it was supposed to have been launched as far back as the last year?

— We did look into that from the technical side, but the final decision on the launch of the advanced transportation spacecraft was in favor of Angara. Soyuz-5 is, if anything, a more commercially oriented vehicle for launching various types of payloads. But not manned spacecraft.

— Have specific nominal landing sites for Orel been selected?

— A preliminary analysis has been completed and a number of areas was identified for the spacecraft landing to the south of the 51.6 degrees latitude within the Russian territory. Inputs have been generated for the requirements for such areas. Specific landing sites for the reentry vehicle of the advanced transportation spacecraft will be selected in the course of a dedicated research and development effort. I expect it to start in the middle of this year.

— How many crew members will Orel carry during mission to the ISS and to the Moon?

— The nominal crew of Orel is four. At the same time, there is an option to install in the habitable compartment of the re-entry vehicle two additional Kazbek-type seats, which are currently used in Soyuz spacecraft, so as to return from the station a crew of six. That is, once again, depending on the mission, we have some leeway to change things without any significant re-design.

— What is the longest duration of Orel mission to the ISS and to the lunar orbit?

— According to our calculations, Orel can stay attached to a space station for up to one year, and up to 180 days in the case of a lunar mission involving docking with a lunar orbital station.

— What radiation protection is provided in Orel during transit to the Moon and in the lunar orbit?

— It is provided by the structure of the habitable compartment of the spacecraft and the heat shield of the re-entry vehicle. In addition to this, also used for protecting the crew against radiation are elements of the instrumentation and propulsion systems of the spacecraft.

— In percentage terms, how many systems will Orel inherit from Soyuz?

— We are definitely not going to use Soyuz systems as part of Orel onboard equipment.

— Is there any certainty about what kind of landing system will be used: parachute plus soft landing thrusters or telescopic legs?

— The Orel reentry vehicle is equipped with parachutes and landing thrusters. And the soft touchdown will be assured through the use of a landing device consisting of four legs.

— Can Orel be controlled by a single person?

— The spacecraft design assumed from the start that it will be controlled by only one crewmember. But it is possible to control the spacecraft from the seat of the second pilot which is located next to the commanders seat.

 


Roscosmos
Spacecraft Orel

 

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