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In Soviet Russia, space travels you

The U.S. may have given up on a fresh Moon shot for now, but its former Cold War-era space race rival has fresh hopes to finally achieve what it could not do in the Soviet-era -- set foot on the moon.

Corporate president Vitaly Lopota, head of one of Russia's largest commercial space companies -- Space Corp. Energia -- announced that it had fulfilled a its design objectives it took on when it won an April 2009 contract to design a new multi-purpose rocket.

Comments Mr. Lopota, "We have completed the technical design project taking into account the fact that the new spaceship is to fly to the Moon, among other places."

In addition to a potential Moon shot, the rocket will be tasked with ferrying cargo and passengers to and from the International Space Station (ISS).  Federal Space Agency Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin announced earlier in the year that the rocket would be constructed and operational by 2018; the news from Energia shows that target may indeed by reached.

Energia heavy lift vehicle
Energia's heavy lift rocket is moving ahead towards a 2018 launch.
[Image Source: RCS Energia]

Russia seemingly is in a bit stronger position than the U.S., in that it still maintains domestic capability to launch humans into space (aboard the seasoned Soyuz capsule craft).  However, the program is under pressure after a string of failed and/or delayed commercial launches.  Most recently a suspected failure in the Briz-M booster scuttled a Proton rocket launch from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan.  The expensive August 2011 failure destroyed two commercial satellites.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave the Russian space agency and its private partners until the end of the summer to work out a plan to fix the deterioriating situation.  

While the design side of the equation appears to be rolling forward, the business plan to remedy the recent issues is still very much up in the air.  Chief Popovkin had proposed creating a holding company that would tie together top commercial space firms -- such as Khrunichev and TsSKB Progress.  The plan then involved creating a sub-holding company inside the greater holding pool to specifically pull in the smaller engine producers, including Energomash, the Khimavtomatiki design bureau, the Voronezh mechanical works, Proton PM, and others.

However, Mr. Lopota blasted that plan, calling it a non-market measure.  Some opponents feel that shareholders in the corporate space firms will be short-changed if the government combines them, and further feel that it's a return to Russia's communist past -- a controversial topic in modern Russia.

Source: Space Travel

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RE: go for it!
By Amiga500 on 12/29/2012 10:26:22 AM , Rating: 4
I agree, and disagree.

Certainly, in terms of knowledge accrued within a few years of mission launch, its a no-brainer to go with unmanned probes/surveyors/rovers.

However, if we are serious about mining the moon for H3, or for eventually colonising other worlds (which the human race will have to do, or it will die), then we need to consider manned missions. Yes, I agree, right now, the bang-for-buck is very poor, but down the line, the foundations laid/lessons learned in these missions are necessary.

Furthermore, there is also a less tangible benefit of manned missions - it gets kids interested in sciences/engineering. Do you dream of being an astronaut or some guy sat in mission control with a joystick moving a rover around? That may not mean much to some, but when I see some of the clowns that pass for engineers these days... I do worry. Too many bright people are wasting their life in law, or non-usable/non-useful arts.

RE: go for it!
By WinstonSmith on 12/29/2012 10:45:00 AM , Rating: 3
"Furthermore, there is also a less tangible benefit of manned missions - it gets kids interested in sciences/engineering."

So do robotic landers/rovers, to a lesser extent, but far more cheaply and at no risk to human life. We need to send more to some very interesting places, like some of the moons of our gas giants. Already been to Titan, but that was just a tag-along mission. We need a full fledged balloon or rover mission there. I'd love to have a look around.

RE: go for it!
By FaaR on 12/31/2012 6:22:35 AM , Rating: 2
You're not really getting it.

Listen to Doctor Neil DeGrasse Tyson's inspiring and insightful senate testimony on why you are wrong:

...And if you're too busy (or too lazy) to spend a few minutes hearing the insights of one very smart guy, here's my own take on it:

It is in human nature to only reach as high as the bar you set for yourself.

If we set the bar at robotic missions, that's all we're ever gonna do. We'll sit down here, puttering around behind our joysticks and watching camera feeds coming off of automated probes controlled by primitive microprocessors, millions of kilometers away.

That's not going to spark a whole lot of interest, and in fact it isn't. In fact we're seeing it NOT sparking interest, right now, and we have been seeing it NOT doing that for decades!

Got any more bright ideas? :P

RE: go for it!
By boeush on 12/31/2012 12:13:25 PM , Rating: 3
Humans in space are a technological, biological, and economic nonstarter for the foreseeable future. Sure, we can blow untold billions on publicity stunts with negligible real payoff... But if we want to spend tax payer money WISELY and if we want to maximize the LONG TERM payoff, then we have to start thinking and investing strategically and analytically, rather than with our gut. We need to drastically lower costs of launching payload to orbit. We need to develop new propulsion, shielding, and repair/maintenance technologies. We need to work on improved materials, and better space hardened electronics. We have decades if not centuries of tech development before we can start building AFFORDABLE and SUSTAINABLE colonies on the Moon, never mind Mars or asteroids. Until we have the right tech capabilities, all we can do is one-shot flag-planting propaganda trips at prohibitively enormous costs. Dreaming about Star Trek won't make it happen any sooner: it will take a great deal more hard and tedious R&D to make any real progress. So we can either spend money on that, or we can waste that money on geopolitical stunts.

As for inspiring future generations, how about overhauling education curricula to make STEM mandatory rather than elective, to create integrated cross-disciplinary curricula that span the entire k-12 period instead of disjointed yearly plans that wastefully rehash the same thing again and again, to introduce hard sciences like chemistry and physics, together with higher math starting with algebra, in middle school and teach those subjects to ever higher levels until graduation. In short, stop treating kids like incapable imbeciles, and start really challenging them and demanding excellence as a matter of course - instead of boring them to tears and teaching them to hate STEM. That would go a long way toward ensuring that we as a whole continue to make rapid progress. And leave inspiration to sci fi books/movies/shows/games - it worked well enough in the past; no need to reinvent that wheel.

RE: go for it!
By JediJeb on 1/2/2013 5:26:34 PM , Rating: 2
It has been proven that children are capable of learning very advanced subjects at very young ages, so we should start with math and science as early as possible. I have seen kids who can understand algebra at even third grade levels, problem is most teachers teaching that level don't even understand it well. In the U.S. we have allowed the vocal minority who want to push arts and humanities as the focus of our educational system to have their way at the expense of having a good science and math curriculum. One study I found has the US ranked at 14th in the world in Reading, while we rank 17th at Science and only 25th in Math. Japan and Finland are at the top of the list currently, why are we not closer to the top?

One reason we are not at the top is we have allowed the entitlement ideology to permeate our society to the point that we believe we shouldn't have to require people to do things but that government should do them for us. Why learn to read, write, do math or science when we can just sit home and watch TV instead. Another is that we seem to be afraid to ask children to actually put forth an effort to learn or make them spend time and energy to learn when they want to do other things, as if making them do something will somehow destroy their self esteem so much that they will become some kind of nonfunctional creature with a broken psyche. Children are much tougher than we give them credit, they can handle a little pressure to perform, and used wisely it will make them stronger as adults. My parents made me do my homework before I could play with my toys or go visit friends, I didn't end up homeless on the streets, I ended up with a degree in chemistry, and interest in art and the ability to write not only technical papers but fiction as well all while still having a well rounded social life.

We have allowed lazy people to succeed in this country and now they are the driving influence on our society, I am afraid of where that will lead if something is not done about it soon.

RE: go for it!
By jaysan on 1/1/2013 11:17:33 PM , Rating: 2
I do agree that robotic missions are cheaper and can take more risks to push the envelope technologically. But since we seek to expand human existence and ultimately to give more choices to humans, then robotic missions should be used to pave the way for human missions. Robotic missions should be used to evaluate and validate technologies that will ultimately allow humans to go farther, to places like Mars where they can live.

RE: go for it!
By Bubbacub on 12/29/2012 1:15:03 PM , Rating: 2
mining the moon for h3 is not a valid reason to fund a space program.

it may become a reasonable proposition in the far future

ITER won't working for decades and even if its successor DEMO functions - it won't be running on h3.

helium 3 fusion cycle is even more energetic and harder to achieve than 'simple' D-T fusion.

thus we are 50 years minimum from possibly needing helium 3 enough to warrant a mining operation on the moon.

going to the moon/mars because its an awesome thing to do / spread life to other planets in case there is a zombie outbreak on earth (insert other disaster) is a better reason.

RE: go for it!
By jaysan on 1/1/2013 11:20:05 PM , Rating: 2
Helium3 is aneutronic, and therefore much easier to harvest than D-T. Therefore more of the energy produced can be harvested.

RE: go for it!
By m51 on 1/2/2013 9:59:05 AM , Rating: 2
Although the D-He3 reaction is aneutronic, the D-D side reactions are not. So the system as a whole is not aneutronic, it just has a reduced neutron flux.

It also requires much higher reaction temperatures than D-T and has a much lower reaction rate, so losses, particularly Bremsstrahlung losses may reduce the system Q to less than is needed to make a viable energy production system. It's unlikely that He3 will be a viable fuel in any thermalized fusion device such as a Tokamak in the near future.

Unfortunately it seems a long shot that any fusion approach will yield an economically viable power supply in the near future. There are a number of unsolved problems such as the First Wall problem that have still not been resolved even after 60 years of research. Not that we shouldn't keep trying, but it would be imprudent to make any economic bets based on an expectation of a working fusion energy system.

He3 seems to be primarily an economic excuse to justify space budgets by space enthusiasts.

I'm fully in support of increased space budgets for other reasons but He3 does not seem to be a legitimate reason.

RE: go for it!
By ballist1x on 12/31/2012 6:54:32 AM , Rating: 2
If it is time for mining the Moon, shouldn't we get the clones ready, Sam?

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