Two Russian Companies Plan to Build First Commercial Space Station

by Nancy Atkinson on September 29, 2010

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Artist impression of the proposed Commercial Space Station. Credit: Orbital Technologies.

Will there soon be another human destination in low Earth orbit, or is this a redundant pipe dream? Two Russian-based companies hope to build the first-ever commercial space station, named, fittingly, Commercial Space Station (CSS). Orbital Technologies and Rocket and Space Corporation Energia (RSC Energria) said in a press release that they will work together to build, launch, and operate the station, which they foresee as will being utilized by private citizens, professional crews as well as corporate researchers interested in conducting scientific programs.

“I am pleased to announce our intention to provide the global marketplace a commercially available orbital outpost,” said the CEO of Orbital Technologies, Sergey Kostenko. “Once launched and operational, the CSS will provide a unique destination for commercial, state and private spaceflight exploration missions. The CSS will be a valuable addition to the global base of orbital assets. We look forward to working with corporate entities, state governments and private individuals from around the world.”

The two companies provided no schedule for launches of the modules, or information about their funding or resources, except to advertise they are looking for partnerships.

A US-based company, Bigelow Aerospace, has also been planning to construct a commercial space station using expandable habitats. They launched prototypes in 2006 and 2007, and in 2011 plan to launch a larger 180,572 square ft. module, which they tout as “fully operational.”

“What competition do we see on the horizon?” said Robert Bigelow, founder and president on the Bigelow Aerospace website. “Nobody.”

This Russian space station, if it actually goes forward, would change that.

Reportedly, the CSS will be able to house up to seven people with “modules and technologies of the highest quality and reliability will be used in the construction of the station,” to “lead the private sector in the commercializing human spaceflight platforms in low Earth orbit.”

The CSS will be serviced by the Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, as well other transportation systems available from other countries, enabled by a “unified docking system that will allow any commercial crew and cargo capability developed in the Unites States, Europe and China.”

Proposed interior of a CSS module. Credit: Orbital Technologies

Having second space station in orbit will allow the crew of the International Space Station to leave the ISS “if a required maintenance procedure or a real emergency were to occur, without the return of the ISS crew to Earth,” said Alexey Krasnov, Head of Manned Spaceflight Department, Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation, allowing the ISS crew to have a safe haven in the event of an emergency.

But the main goal of the CSS is to be a hub for commercial activity, scientific research and development in low Earth orbit. Orbital Technologies said they already have several customers under contract from different segments of industry and the scientific community, representing such areas as medical research and protein crystallization, materials processing, and the geographic imaging and remote sensing industry.

“We also have proposals for the implementation of media projects,” said Kostenko. “And, of course, some parties are interested in short duration stays on the station for enjoyment.”

And for the future, the developers see the CSS as a “true gateway to the rest of the solar system,” said Kostenko. “A short stop-over at our station will be the perfect beginning of a manned circumlunar flight. Deep space manned exploration missions planned in the next decade are also welcome to use the CSS as a waypoint and a supply station.”

Source: Orbital Technologies

About 

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

scibuff September 29, 2010 at 5:58 AM

I really wish they could pull this off but these days I can’t see a single nation building a new space station … not to mention a few corporations

Roen September 29, 2010 at 6:25 AM

I truly wonder if I am the only person that sees the big problem with letting corporations off earth. Do you people seriously believe that corporations, that have proven time and again an incredible knack for irresponsibility on earth, would suddenly use due care and attention out there? Even down here, where there is some control over what they do, corporates have shown themselves to be morally retarded, and all you think that letting them up there isn’t cause for alarm?

No, let’s hope they DON’T succeed.

TerryG September 29, 2010 at 7:19 AM

Hello Reon,

“incredible knack for irresponsibility” is symptomatic of poor over sight and ineffective enforcement of regulations as recently exemplified by BP Oil and the disgraced federal watchdog, the US Minerals Management Service (since re-branded as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management).

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of commercial airline passengers know that flying is statistically safer than travel by car because of regulation provided by bodies like the FAA with assistance from the NTSB and International Aviation Safety Assn etc.

When NASA buys services from commercial vendors, NASA and the USAF still provide plenty of oversight and if the CSS gains business and oversight from say the Russian Government (as a launch customer), who’s to say it won’t be successful?

Roen September 29, 2010 at 8:04 AM

Hello TerryG:
Yet we forget how the spill happened in the first place. Oversight committees and regulation did not seem to make a difference in preventing the BP spill (and many others). Even NASA’s due diligence failed to prevent two shuttle disasters. Commercial airline disasters still occur due to malfunction; landing gear malfunctions, blackouts, software failures etc. These things still occur regardless of regulation and oversight committees. Simply saying that it is still safer than cars does little to revive the dead from all those malfunctions, or console the families. Now we’re not just talking air disaster potential. Now, we’re talking about commercial flight and commercial space stations. Imagine the risk to civilian populations of one calculation is off by the slightest, if one component is not quite up to par because a cost was cut here and there and slipped by whatever oversight committee was in charge (reminding you again of the two shuttle disasters).

Aqua September 29, 2010 at 8:32 AM

In the past I’ve advocated hardening and reusing ESA’s ATVs and JAXA’s HTVs and Russia’s Progress spacecraft and joining them together as a separate space station. This CSS concept might also eventually become an LSS? Hmm….

Torbjorn Larsson OM September 29, 2010 at 10:33 AM

the big problem with letting corporations off earth. Do you people seriously believe that corporations, that have proven time and again an incredible knack for irresponsibility on earth, would suddenly use due care and attention out there?

I see several problems with your claims.

First, there is no common definition of “irresponsibility”. You need that and then data as your basis.

Second, corporations work commercially. They don’t like bad publicity or risks that cut into their market.

For example, BP was mentioned. They meet the nominal US regulations on safety, but because of a sloppy and unnecessary accident that the poor system allowed witness their rush to close of a field that have 90 % oil left. (Presumably to let someone else buy it and exploit it a few years down the line without having BP’s name risk exposed.)

Space is no different from here, and free markets and democracy works well according to statistics despite statistically tailing segments of both. (And again, we don’t know if corporations are worse or better than most.) So I wouldn’t worry about what amounts to all signs amounts to conspiracy theories.

Roen September 29, 2010 at 11:44 AM

irresponsible — adj. not showing or done with due care for the consequences of one’s actions or attitudes; reckless.

Hyatt Regency walkway collapse caused by late design changes lowering the maximum weight that it could hold. Those who signed off on the changes were found guilty of “gross negligence, misconduct, and unprofessional conduct in the practice of engineering”.

1992. The TV Antenna Tower in Texas that collapsed and killed a number of people. Caused by the negligence and irresponsible engineers.

Three Mile Island. Among other causes, block valves to the emergency feedwater pumps were closed during maintenance and never reopened. The indicator light for one of the valves was covered by a yellow paper. the valves were never checked and were simply “expected” to be open.

Chernobyl. (felt this was of high importance here as there are Russian corporations involved in the corporate space station)
1. Non-routine operation of the reactor.
2. Violation of operating regulations, including the removal of most of the control rods.
3. Positive void coefficient characteristic of the reactor.
4. Apparent lack of knowledge by the station staff of the characteristics of the reactor.
5. Inadequate control rod design.

The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. Incessant delays due to hardware failures led to a pressure to launch. Shims inserted in the O-rings instead of replacing them. Admittedly this is not corporate and is common knowledge to those who read here, but I felt you wanted an example of the shuttle disasters I mentioned, in case you felt it necessary to provide data on those too.

Roen September 29, 2010 at 11:52 AM

But I also beg to differ in your comment that space is no different than what is happening on the ground in the air, with regards to corporate recklessness. The problem here is that a space station falling out of the sky and hitting a city could spell disaster.

All the space junk out there now is still there because our governments don’t want to foot the cost of controlled deorbiting them. I remember a few news articles over the last few years of the ISS crews needing to prepare to leave the station due to the junk out there. Commercialize low orbit and this situation will get worse at an exponential rate.

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