Russian airlock concept
During the final meeting in 2016 of the international working group on the cis-lunar station, which was held in Houston from October 24 to October 26, the Russian team presented the design of an airlock module to enable spacewalks from the outpost. The 4.6-ton spacecraft could also double as a cargo supply vehicle during its hitchhike ride to lunar orbit on the SLS/Orion vehicle around 2025. The Russian concept was based on the Airlock Module, ShM, originally proposed for the Russian Orbital Station, ROS, which was expected to succeed the International Space Station, ISS.
The future module is essentially made of two airlocks -- the primary spherical chamber and a backup cylindrical extension. The spherical compartment with an internal volume of 16 cubic meters features two hatches for spacewalking cosmonauts. (For comparison, the pair of Docking Compartments on the ISS (SO1 and MIM2), which are used for spacewalks from the Russian segment, have a volume of 12 cubic meters each).
The secondary cylindrical compartment of the future airlock would be normally used as a closet for spacesuits and remain pressurized, but it could also serve as a backup airlock itself in case of emergency, for example, if the primary compartment failed to re-pressurize at the end of a spacewalk. The crew would still use the hatches of the primary compartment to exit the station, but all the systems of the cylindrical compartment were designed to operate in vacuum. Such a backup airlock capability was previously provided by the Kvant-2 module on the Mir space station.
Traditionally for Russian modules, the airlock was expected to have docking ports on both its ends, which would enable it to serve as a pier and a vestibule for incoming spacecraft.
To maximize the use of the airlock module as a delivery vehicle, a pair of three-tank clusters of the Rodnik (Spring) water system would be mounted on lattice structures attached to the sides of the spherical compartment.
By the end of 2016, the international working group singled out the airlock module as the only feasible Russian component of the future cis-lunar outpost, not counting the Russian transport ship, which still remains in the early stage of development and without a readily available delivery system to the lunar orbit.
Like most components of the cis-lunar outpost, the airlock module was slated to ride to the vicinity of the Moon on the Orion/SLS system. As of 2016, the mission was penciled around 2025 in the provisional assembly sequence of the cis-lunar station.
Following the insertion into a trans-lunar trajectory, pilots of the Orion would separate their spacecraft from the upper stage of the SLS rocket, turn around, dock with the Russian airlock and then extract it from the stage. A few days later, the Orion would rendezvous with the cis-lunar outpost and dock with it via the airlock module.
However the relatively low mass of the Russian airlock meant that the giant SLS rocket would fly not at its maximum payload capacity, losing a precious opportunity to deliver a full cargo to the lunar outpost. The problem could probably be resolved with stuffing the airlock with various supplies during its ride to the station.
As an alternative, NASA engineers requested their Russian colleagues to consider launching the module on the Angara-5 rocket, along with its own space tug, which could automatically rendezvous and dock the spacecraft at the cis-lunar platform.
Because the Russian airlock would be the primary "exit door" for the cis-lunar station (unlike the ISS, where the Russian and US segments have their own airlocks) NASA wanted to evaluate the option of integrating US-built spacesuits with the Russian airlock, along with the Orlan-type Russian suits.
Where to attach it?
There were also discussions concerning where exactly to attach the Russian airlock to the station. Although, its two docking ports allowed to connect other components of the outpost at both end of the Russian vehicle, it would also mean that during spacewalks, the habitable volume would be split into two isolated parts -- not the best configuration from the safety point of view.
Moreover, the central position of the module could create clearance problems for the arriving spacecraft and for the add-on components. As a result, the "open-ended" attachment of the airlock seemed preferable, but the issue remained to be resolved in 2017.
Russian engineers also had to tackle the question of from which end to attach the module to the launch vehicle and how to organize the integration of the module with the station. If the module was to be attached to the SLS via its primary spherical compartment, as it was originally designed for a ride on the Soyuz-2 rocket to the Russian Orbital Station, the Orion would have to dock it to the cis-lunar outpost in the "upside-down" position. The station's robotic arm would then have to be used to undock the airlock, rotate it 180 degrees and re-dock it back to the station.
Alternatively, the airlock could be modified from its original design for the Russian Orbital Station in order to be attached to the launch vehicle via the aft bulkhead of its cylindrical compartment on the opposite end of the module.
All these technical issues are yet to be dealt with, as the overall concept of the cis-lunar station continues to evolve.
On November 9, 2016, the heads of manned space flight programs of the countries involved in the ISS held a teleconference to discuss the status of the cis-lunar outpost project and to coordinate future steps. According to industry sources, Aleksei Strelnikov, Head of Manned Space Flight Directorate at Roskosmos, promised to seek Russian funding for the Airlock Module...
International Space Station (ISS) project partners are inching ever
closer toward an agreement to begin the development of a new human
outpost in the vicinity of the Moon. If successful, the cis-lunar space
station (a space station in the vicinity of the Moon) will be the
largest international space project to date, influencing the direction
of human space flight for decades to come.
During a closed-door meeting in Houston last week, NASA
officials met their colleagues from Europe, Russia, Japan, and Canada to
discuss the latest changes to the cis-lunar space station concept. The
team, known as the International Spacecraft Working Group, ISCWG, is
charged with brainstorming all the technical details necessary to start
the development of the new deep-space exploration program after the
retirement of the ISS, now expected in mid 2020s. The team's
recommendations are not binding, but will likely form the reference
architecture for any future project.
The current vision involves a multi-modular outpost, essentially a
smaller version of the ISS, but in the vicinity of the Moon instead of
in Earth’s orbit. The outpost will also use more advanced technologies
than those available on the ISS, such as closed-loop life-support
systems and electric propulsion. These could enable the outpost to
become the first interplanetary crewed spacecraft heading into deep
space to explore asteroids or even reach the vicinity of Mars in the
2030s. To reflect that ultimate goal, NASA identified the facility as a
“proving ground” for Mars exploration.
The cis-lunar outpost would be built primarily out of modular
components riding NASA’s giant SLS rocket as hitchhikers along with the
Orion spacecraft. Following its insertion into trans-lunar trajectory,
the Orion crew capsule would separate from the booster stage, turn
around and dock with the add-on module still attached to the booster
stage, very much like Apollo crews did to extract their lunar modules in
However, instead of landing on the lunar surface, each Orion mission
would bring an add-on module to the vicinity of the Moon, where they
would all be bolted together to form a long-term habitat. Other
countries could launch their own components, as with the ISS program.
According to the latest architecture worked out by the partners, the
construction of the outpost would start with a 8.5-ton power and
propulsion module launched during the Orion’s third Exploration Mission,
Recently, the European Space Agency agreed to provide an additional
cutting-edge electric engine unit, which would help to propel the first
module. Both American and European electric thrusters would be fed by
xenon gas. The same module would also provide power supply and
communications for the entire outpost. Last but not least, Canada would
build a robotic arm, which would be strapped to the propulsion module
and later used on the outpost.
Once the power and propulsion capabilities are in place, a pair of
habitation modules would be delivered and attached to it in two
subsequent Orion missions, EM-4 and EM-5. Previous incarnations of the
plans envisioned these components being built in Russia or Europe, but
the Japanese space agency has recently offered to contribute its own
habitat. The Japanese habitat would feature a closed-loop life-support
system, greatly reducing dependency of the outpost on deliveries of
water and oxygen from Earth.
Also this year, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, agreed to
consider contributing an airlock module for the outpost, which would be
used for spacewalks. During its ride to the lunar vicinity with the
Orion spacecraft, the airlock would be packed full of supplies for the
future station, bringing its launch mass to around nine tons.
Alternatively, Roscosmos could launch the airlock module independently,
using its new-generation Angara-5 rocket, upgraded with a high-power
hydrogen space tug.
Theoretically, Russia could also support the international program
with its next-generation transport spacecraft dubbed Federatsiya
(Federation), which is expected to be the only alternative to the Orion
in bringing crews to the outpost. As of today, Roscosmos promises the
first crewed flight of the new ship in the low Earth’s orbit in 2024,
followed by the first mission to lunar orbit in 2027. Although SpaceX
and other private providers are likely interested in providing
transportation services to a cis-lunar program, only the NASA Orion and
Roscosmos CTV spacecraft appear on the official schedule.
The cis-lunar space station could also be complemented by a 10-ton
robotic vehicle developed jointly by ESA, Japan, and Canada. It could be
equipped with a rover and an ascent stage for returning soil samples
from the surface of the Moon. The robotic vehicle could be launched
independently on a rocket provided by one of the partner agencies in
2026, at the earliest. Once the probe lands on the Moon, a crew onboard
the cis-lunar outpost could remotely operate the soil-sampling rover on
the surface and then launch the ascent stage for the subsequent transfer
of samples back to Earth.
In the course of its assembly and operation, the cis-lunar outpost
could be resupplied by cargo vehicles launched on a variety of rockets.
During the second phase of assembly, at the end of the 2020s, the
outpost would be complemented with NASA’s newest habitation and
propulsion module launched on a dedicated SLS rocket. This latest
addition could make it possible for the outpost to embark on the first
mission into deep space.
Where do they stand?
Sources familiar with the matter say that after years of
negotiations, the international team made enough progress to reach an
agreement in the near future, which would see ISS partners all
contributing components and technologies for the common goal. The
initial phase of development of the cis-lunar outpost, known as Phase A,
could then go ahead in 2017 or 2018.
During the Houston meeting this month, it was decided to postpone the
beginning of the habitat construction by around a year until 2023.
Under this scenario, the first phase of the outpost would be completed
in 2028. Of course, if history of the ISS is any guide, many delays are
There are several political developments coming even this year, which
can throw a monkey wrench into the carefully constructed schedule.
Obviously, the first being the US presidential elections, which are
notorious for changing the course of the American space program. Next,
comes a meeting in December of the European ministers drawing the ESA’s
budget for the next several years. And another wild card in the project
is the Russian involvement, which remains uncertain due to an array of
political, financial and technical problems.
Not surprisingly, partners scheduled the next meeting on the
cis-lunar outpost at the beginning of next year. Although 2017 is just
two months away, it could very well be in another era for space
Anatoly Zak is the publisher of RussianSpaceWeb.com and the author of Russia in Space: the Past Explained, the Future Explored.
Russsian cosmonaut reveals details about future international station in Moon’s orbit
MOSCOW, December 12. /TASS/. A future international space station that may be put in orbit around the Moon will be one-fourth or even one-fifth the size of the International Space Station currently orbiting the Earth, the chief of the Manned Programs Center at the space industry’s main research institute, cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, has told TASS.
"The discussion over plans for creating an international station in the Moon’s orbit is in the initial phase. Pre-project talks are being held by the ISS partner countries at the working group level. The purpose of the station will be to create a near-Moon infrastructure for subsequent exploration and development of the Moon. Currently the station is seen as a small visitable orbiter consisting of three or four modules in the Moon’s polar highly elliptical orbit," he said.
First on the Moon
Kotov said a future lunar space station will help polish technologies crucial to exploring the Moon and deep space. In particular, it may explore the Moon’s surface using rovers and landing probes.
"The lunar station is regarded as an international project and this is very good, because it would be very wrong to neglect the experience of international cooperation in designing and operating the ISS accumulated over years when the ISS life cycle is over.
Russia’s lunar plans
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that on presidential instructions work had begun on technical documents for creating an extra-heavy space rocket that will make it possible to start creating a visitable or inhabitable research laboratory in the Moon’s orbit.
In the spring of 2016 it was announced that Russia’s Energia and the United States’ Boeing corporation were working jointly on two concepts of a lunar station - two smaller livable modules or one larger module. The current proposal is NASA’s future SLS super-heavy space rocket would be used to take lunar station components and crew to an orbit around the Moon. If the multi-modular project is selected, the modules will be launched in combination with a US spacecraft Orion (also being developed by NASA).
In either case the station will have a crew of four. The duration of space missions will last 30 to 360 days. Missions to the Moon will be dispatched once a year.
Energia’s proposal is to start creating an orbital lunar platform at the end of 2022 and to send the first crew to it in the first half of 2025. Earlier reports said Russia hoped to see its first cosmonaut on the Moon in 2031.