MIR-2: IS IT REALLY NECESSARY?

13.09.06
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)

Fate stopped sneering and smiled at last when an American shuttle successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS). Soon it will be followed by the 14th expedition by a Russian crew.

So far so good. But what about tomorrow, or rather the year 2015, when the real job is to begin? Russia is then planning to build its own high-latitude orbiting station, which has already been given the name Mir-2. Why? The Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos) has come up with some explanations. But everything in its turn.

Here are the comments made at the end of last summer by top Russian space functionaries. Vitaly Davydov, deputy head of Roskosmos, speaking at the 5th International Aerospace Congress in Moscow, said that Russia was to complete the construction of its ISS segment in 2011 by launching a research module. At the same time, Davydov said that “the ISS is to be phased out in 2016-2025”.

A ten-year period is something to wonder at, but what is worrying is the fact that there are only four years during which a worthwhile effort can be made. Besides, it is hard to speak of serious work or make far-reaching plans that call for ten or so years to complete when the station is about to be deactivated. Meanwhile, Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of Russia’s largest space corporation, Energia, said 2011-2015 was the period during which the orbiting complex would be used as a launching pad for manned flights. Four expeditions to the Moon on a modernized Soyuz craft are planned for that time period. And only the last one is expected to land astronauts on the Moon. It appears the Russian lunar program is going to get off the ground at a time when the ISS is supposed to be scrapped!

We will not examine the international aspect of the station’s use. We’ll speak of Russian financial resources. They are certain to be insufficient to ensure the full-scale scientific exploitation of the complex, let alone organize deep-space manned expeditions. But Roskosmos wants Russia to go it alone. Here are the remarks made at the Congress by its head, Anatoly Perminov.

“In 2016-2025, the plan is to wind up the ISS program and start building a new manned orbiting infrastructure around a Russian high-latitude multi-purpose manned space station. Such a system, set up in an orbit with an inclination of 70o, will afford a full view of Russia’s territory and adjoining areas, compared with the 6-7% currently available from the Russian segment of the ISS. This will allow Russian users to address dozens more problems than now. The station will produce materials, preparations and substances with properties hard or impossible to attain on Earth, carry out remote sensing of the globe for economic and social needs, and make commercial use of experimental results. It will also try out technologies for interplanetary travel to the Moon and Mars.”

It appears that we will be “trying out technologies” on the one hand, and building a new station on the other, one that has no connection with the international complex. But the central issue is money. Where will Russia get it? Roskosmos does not rule out “foreign participation in the Russian project. We would gladly welcome it,” said Igor Panarin, the spokesman for the Agency.

Not counting the staunchest and most valuable Russian space partners — Belarus and Kazakhstan — only cloak-and-dagger men from foreign intelligence services would be interested in having a “full view of Russian territory”. And they would not be welcome. And why is a manned station necessary for that, anyway? The world successfully runs and draws huge dividends from remote sensing and monitoring satellites that operate automatically.

It is the commercial use of research satellites and, to an even greater extent, of communication satellites, combined with public financing, that clears the way for addressing global problems in astronautics.

We, however, give preference to sweeping plans rather than routine daily chores. As a result, Russian manufacturers of communication satellites may lose their competitive edge on the world market unless the state steps in. That unhappy note was struck in a report delivered at the Congress by the Reshetnev Research and Production Association of Applied Mechanics in Siberia.

If things go on like this, we will not be able to skate over the question of why we need Russian astronautics. –0-