Russia’s space program is in serious trouble.

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Roscosmos plans to take down the Soyuz currently stationed on the ISS ahead of schedule and replace it with another Soyuz, a Russian newspaper reported. This could be a sign of technical problems behind the scenes.

For nine years after the last space shuttle flight, NASA depended on Russia to transport astronauts to the ISS – the Soyuz provided the only trip to space. But in 2020, NASA began using the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Soon Boeing will start offering rides. NASA still relies on Russia for some cargo deliveries and some astronaut flights, but that could soon change, McClintock said. “I think it’s probably — and prudent — if NASA does the same analysis to see if they can resupply and move astronauts to the station without depending on the Russians,” he said.

NASA can already move in that direction; On March 2, the agency extended cargo agreements with SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and Sierra Space. This development will reduce Russia’s already limited space revenues and cause economic problems for Russia. Roscosmos has no commercial space program to support or crash.

Russia has long been dependent on neighboring Kazakhstan for its Baikonur spaceport for passenger aircraft. But the country has charged expensive annual fees, and in March Kazakhstan reportedly seized Russian spaceport assets from Roscosmos. Russia has tried to reduce its reliance on Baikonur by building Vostekky Cosmodrome, a new spaceport in eastern Russia near the Chinese border, but the project has been plagued by construction problems, delays and corruption scandals.

Beyond the problems and cold leaks, Russia’s civilian space program faces another problem: the ISS. For the past quarter-century, the station has provided a vital link between the U.S. and Russian space programs, but it is in decline with plans to retire the massive structure entirely. NASA is investing in the next generation of commercial space stations, with modules scheduled to reach orbit as early as the 2030s. Russia has no role in those commercial concepts, nor does it have any role in China’s new Tiangong station.

Last July, the head of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, said that Russia would withdraw from the ISS in 2028, when it will arm its own space station—effectively ending the station’s lifespan. And this February, the state-owned TASS news agency confirmed that Russia plans to support the ISS until 2028, contingent on the deployment of a “new Russian orbital station.”

Pavel Luzin, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation who focuses on China, Russia and Eurasia, is skeptical. In his career, he doesn’t know about new space station models, crafty spacecraft, or launch vehicles. In the year He said it would be good if Russia even opened a new station in the 2030s. “Russia is not the Soviet Union,” said Luzin, a visiting scholar at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “Russia can build some large vehicles and Soyuz spacecraft. Russia can arm some satellites. But it won’t be an advanced space force. It won’t make steps beyond low Earth orbit.

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