Russia Wants to Build New Space Station, Extend Life of ISS to 2020

by Ian O'Neill on January 31, 2009

The Mir space station hangs above the Earth in 1995 (photo by Atlantis STS-71, NASA)

The Mir space station hangs above the Earth in 1995 (photo by Atlantis STS-71, NASA)

The Russian space agency (Roscosmos) has announced that it will lobby Moscow with a proposal that would see the construction of a new Russian space station in low-Earth orbit. Also, the agency has expressed a desire to extend the operational lifespan of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2020 (the outpost is set for retirement in 2015). Building a Russian space station will aid Russia’s desire to kick-start their lunar program, possibly acting as a staging post for future missions to Mars…

The ISS has been a hot topic over the last few months, but not always for the right reasons. Its construction is behind schedule by at least five years, primarily due to the Columbia disaster in early 2003 plus some funding problems in the Russian space agency. However, despite its problems, the ISS was 76% complete as of July 2008 and it is set for completion in 2010. This may be the case, but the station is scheduled to be retired in 2015, meaning science on the completed ISS only has a period of five years before it is de-orbited and sent the same way as Mir in 2001 (i.e. down).

Could the ISS be modified to travel to Mar<span>s</span>? Credit: NASA/Ian O'Neill
The thought of disposing of the ISS so soon has led to some speculative “alternative uses” for the ISS; one of the most outlandish being the conversion of the ISS into some kind of International Space Ship, retrofitting the station with rockets and sending it to the Moon and/or Mars to act as a manned mothership for planetary activities. Although this excites my science fiction imagination, this possibility seems unlikely (it would be cool though…).

It seems that Roscosmos has made their feelings clear about the whole situation, making an announcement on Thursday wanting to drum up support for an ISS extension to 2020 and start the construction of a Russian replacement space station, forming the back bone of Roscosmos’ ambitions to set up a base on the Moon and then make a manned expedition to the Red Planet.

We will soon propose to our government a project to construct a low-orbit complex, which could serve as a foundation for the implementation of the lunar program and later on – the Mars program,” Alexei Krasnov, director of manned flight programs at Roscosmos, said in a news conference in Moscow on January 29th. “These are our intentions, but we are working hard to ensure that these plans get adequate financial and legislative support from the government.”

The Russian space agency has often been criticised for having ambitions exceeding their budgets, but this is an interesting proposition. The biggest obstacle (apart from the funding bit) would be to convince the other ISS member states to continue funding the mission. “We are considering the extension of ISS service life at least until 2020, but this decision must be adopted by the governments of all 15 countries participating in the project,” Krasnov said.

The idea of having a Russian space station is not very hard to imagine, after all, Roscosmos has the experience of designing, constructing and living on the Mir space station (with the assistance of the Shuttle-Mir Program intended to forge a collaboration between the US and Russia in the run-up to “Phase 2″ of the space relationship: constructing the ISS), and they have a very robust existing launch system. All this will be a valuable infrastructure toward supporting the construction of a new manned outpost.

Although this announcement sounds very exciting for Russia, the space agency is beset with financial woes of its own; the idea of embarking on an expensive space station project probably wont be entertained for very long…

Source: RIA Novosti

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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

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