RUSSIA TO LAUNCH NEW ORBITAL LABORATORIES
MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti)
Two orbital laboratories are to be launched as part of the Federal Space
Program to investigate the fundamental properties of zero gravity,
materials in space and biotechnologies.
The laboratories will first be docked with the International Space Station
(ISS), from which they will venture out for three to four months to carry
out experiments. Then they will re-dock with the station to enable
cosmonauts to send the samples back to Earth in small-sized landing
capsules. With new material loaded, more experiments will be conducted.
The fact that the laboratories will have no crew and there will be fewer
working devices on them compared with the orbiting station, will reduce
residual micro-accelerations to several millionths of a g (9.8 m/sec). In
principle this is possible on a manned station, too, but the difficulties
involved are overly challenging. These considerations led to the idea of a
new approach combining the advantages of large, manned orbiting spacecraft
and automatic probes periodically serviced by cosmonauts when coupled with
the mother ship. Such an arrangement will increase the effectiveness of
gravitational studies in materials science, fluid physics and
In addition, a five-year program of repeated experiments could be planned
to make better use of the life of space laboratories and their on-board
experimental equipment. Another advantage will be dispensing with the need
for multiple rocket launches, whose costs are rapidly growing. The Russian
approach may pave the way for a pilot orbital production system that will
turn a profit. Initially, at least, it may explore promising lines of
research and test basic technologies.
The Samara Space Rocket Center (TsSKB-Progress), which is developing the
orbital laboratories, claims that these will be spacecraft of an entirely
new design. At any rate, the Vozvrat-MKA (the abbreviation stands for
“small-sized spacecraft”) must be novel, since the center has not
produced such vehicles before. The second craft has been named the Oka-T
(with the T designating “technological”).
The idea of a self-contained space vehicle goes back a long time. In the
mid-1990s the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash)
developed a craft that came to be known as the MAKOS-T, or the multiple
technological automatic space-serviced system, intended to try out
promising research areas and test basic space technologies.
In the late 1990s, the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation and the Astro-Space
Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Physics Institute jointly
developed the concept of a free-floating spacecraft (FFS) able to dock
with the Russian segment of the ISS. The vehicle was intended in the first
place to address astronomical and, to a lesser degree, geophysical and
The FFS was to be orbited close to the ISS so that it could repeatedly
approach and dock with the station for refueling to keep the scientific
payload functioning, and for repairing and replacing service systems and
research apparatus. The need for optics repairs on the orbiting Hubble
space telescope has shown the wisdom of using accessible space stations.
The space freighter “Progress”, equipped with solar batteries, was
used as the engineering basis for the FFS. Its life in orbit was to be
over 10 years, and one of its first research objectives was to explore
cold matter in the Universe by means of an infrared telescope with a
mirror cooled by a cryostat system.
Unfortunately, in those years the Russian space rocket industry was in
financial straits, and both projects — the MAKOS-T and FFS — were
built in dribs and drabs. Today things are looking up, and, according to
the Samara center, one of the laboratories is to be launched in 2012 to
fly “in formation with the ISS” and conduct “technological”
studies, while the other is to go up in 2015. Federal Space Agency chief
Anatoly Perminov confirmed the dates.
The infrared telescope project will be implemented on a specialized space
observatory. The reason is that to ensure the unit’s required
sensitivity (angular resolution), not only must its mirror (12 meters in
diameter) be cooled, but also it is necessary to have anti-radiation
screens on board to expel heat into space via a radiator. This spacecraft,
which has a lot of large, protruding elements, is practically impossible
to dock with the orbiting station. Besides, the observatory’s scientific
mission calls for an orbit of 75,000 kilometers in perigee and 300,000
kilometers in apogee.
The deep-freezing facility will make the telescope, with its 12-meter
mirror, the equivalent, in sensitivity terms, of a ground-based radio
telescope with an antenna diameter of 3 kilometers, while in
interferometer mode it will achieve an angular resolution a thousand times
better than interferometers with the maximum possible base (equal to the
The Lavochkin Research and Production Association has been named the prime
contractor for the project, which is nicknamed Millimetron (from its
observation range). The craft is expected to be completed in 2015.
Millimetron will thus be the fifth scientific astrophysical project to be
listed in the federal program.
The first four include Radioastron, a project to make observations in the
radio band (work is well underway on it, and the observatory is scheduled
to go into orbit in 2007); the Spektr-UF project, set to go up in 2010,
which has been given the status of World Astronomical Laboratory, and will
conduct observations in the infrared part of the spectrum; the Spektr-RG
X-ray observatory, which in 2005 became a Russian-European project called
Spektr RG/e ROSSITA/Lobster, whose space observatory is to be launched in
2008-2009; and finally the Gamma-400 project, still in the development
Yury Zaitsev is an expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute
of Space Research.-0-