Saturday, April 4, 2009

Roscosmos to unveil new spacecraft plans

Roscosmos is expected to name the ship's primary developer, which has competed to win government money for the project. The new spacecraft should become operational towards the end of the next decade, and will replace the esteemed Soyuz capsule, the three-seat craft that has carried Russian cosmonauts into orbit for some forty years.

Although Roscosmos has not publicly disclosed details about the upcoming announcement, it has quietly released its requirements for a future manned transport system to the nation’s space industry.

As a result, some hints about the ship's likely design and its possible missions have been revealed. For instance, the new spacecraft, currently known only by the acronym PPTS, for Prospective Piloted Transport System, would be capable of reaching low-Earth orbit or entering orbit around the Moon.

In disclosing the technical specifications for the proposed spacecraft, Russia has also given a glimpse of its future space program.

The Earth-orbiting version of the spacecraft would weigh 12 ton, carry a crew of six in addition to 500kg of cargo. Its lunar version would weigh 16.5 tons, have four seats and be able to deliver and return 100 kg of cargo. The unmanned cargo version of the spacecraft would be required to carry 2,000kg or more into orbit around the Earth, and return at least 500kg back to the surface.

Roscosmos has reserved the option of a reusable crew module, on the assumption that a cone-shaped capsule could fly as many as 10 missions during its 15-year lifespan.

Although the most capable version of the ship seeks to support lunar missions, "intermediate" configurations aim to complete a variety of other tasks. For instance, Roscosmos wants the future developer to assess the possibility of sending the spacecraft into high-inclination orbits extending towards the poles, a place typically occupied only by Earth-observation and spy satellites.

When in Earth's orbit, the requirements call for the new ship to be able to fly 30-day-long autonomous missions. It must also be able to stay no less than a year in space when docked at the International Space Station, or to a possible future Russian space station.

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