Russia Considering Rocket-Powered Precision Landing for Next Generation Spacecraft

by Nancy Atkinson on April 29, 2009

The future Russian capsule could land on a bright rocket plume. Credit: Anatoly Zak,

The future Russian capsule could land on a bright rocket plume. Credit: Anatoly Zak,

Engineers for Russia’s next-generation manned space vehicle are considering a rocket-powered landing system which would provide precision landing on Earth. Currently, the Soyuz uses small solid propellant motors to soften its touchdown, but the ship’s parachute plays the main role in providing the vehicle and crew with a safe landing. Russia is developing a new spacecraft to replace the Soyuz which has been used for nearly forty years. If the rocket-powered landing system is approved, this would be the first time in history that a manned vehicle relied solely on rocket engines for touchdown.

All previous Russian/USSR manned missions have landed on Earth using a parachute, except for the Russian shuttle, Buran, which was never flown to space. made one unmanned spaceflight in 1988. (Early US missions used parachutes, while the shuttle uses wings and wheels to land.)

This change in landing architecture is being considered because Russia is building a spaceport in eastern part of the country that has only a narrow strip of land where spacecraft could land, approximately 2 by 5 kilometers. The new spaceport is a highly political decision, as the current spaceport in Baikonur is located in the newly independent republic of Kazakhstan, and Russian politicians would like to end their dependence and on Kazakhstan for spaceflight.

Artist concept of the new capsule in flight. Credit: Anatoly Zak,

Artist concept of the new capsule in flight. Credit: Anatoly Zak,

Therefore, Russian engineers found themselves under political pressure to improve the maneuverability of the next generation spacecraft, so it could guide itself into a relatively small landing area.

Last July, Korolev-based RKK Energia released the first drawings of a multi-purpose transport ship, known as the Advanced Crew Transportation System (ACTS), which, at the time, Russia had hoped to develop in co-operation with Europe.

Combined with retractable landing legs and a re-usable thermal protection system, landing rockets provides the possibility of a reusable capsule as well.

According to the presentation made by Nikolai Bryukhanov, the leading designer at RKK Energia, at the 26th International Symposium on Space Technology and Science in Hamamatsu, Japan, the spacecraft would fire its engines at an altitude of just 600-800m, as the capsule is streaking toward Earth after re-entering the atmosphere at the end of its mission.

After a vertical descent, the precision landing would be initiated at the altitude of 30m above the surface.

The concept looks similar to the US’s experimental DC-X vehicle, tested in the 1990s, which was abandoned at the end of the Cold War.

Source: BBC


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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