Will Russia be able to create its own orbital station? And why shouldn't you be happy about it?

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Will Russia be able to create its own orbital station? And why shouldn't you be happy about it?
Will Russia be able to create its own orbital station? And why shouldn't you be happy about it?

Russia approved the decision to deploy a national space station (ROS) - and refuse to participate in the ISS. Critics believe that creating such a station will not work. Unfortunately for us, they are wrong: Roscosmos has everything necessary for this, which we will show below. But it would be better if it were not: the orbital station is the last area of ​​work in space, which is worth developing in the 2020s. Its creation makes as much sense as the development of a new steam locomotive during the heyday of diesel locomotives. Nevertheless, it is almost inevitable. Let's figure out why.


History moves in a spiral. Ten years ago, in 2011, TASS already published material with a loud headline: “It needs to be flooded”. What will happen to the ISS and what will be the new Russian space station”. The text contained the opinion of Igor Marinin, the current member of the Tsiolkovsky Russian Academy of Cosmonautics.

Then he argued: “The decision must be taken now, as more and more technical comments appear on the International Space Station (ISS). It needs to be flooded. We must be ready for what's next. " Marinin believed that the creation of its own manned orbital station would be the cheapest option for the country. But not very effective. “We already have experience and, in general, there are not many experiments left,” he said.

Today we can repeat exactly the same thing: more and more technical comments are appearing on the ISS, including periodic air leaks in the Russian segments (Zvezda module). Obviously, the rest of our station modules are also very old and may soon "leak". As early as last November, RSC Energia predicted an avalanche-like increase in the number of malfunctions on the Russian part of the ISS. Its maintenance after this period will cost 10-15 billion rubles annually. This is only three times less than the deployment of a new station, moreover, it will last much longer than the eternally patched modules of the already fairly old ISS.


But what about NASA's statement that the ISS can operate until 2028? Everything is true, however, one must understand that the ISS as a whole is one thing, and the Russian modules - the oldest part of the station - are a little different. The entire station will indeed survive until 2028 without any problems. Russian modules can be patched, hatches can be battened down there, the station as a whole will not lose its working capacity.

It seems that the news of Vladimir Putin's approval of the Russian space station (ROS) arrived just in time. But it seems so far from everyone: some believe that Russia, in principle, is not capable of creating its own orbital station.

Yes, we have not been able to launch one "Science" for 25 years, what new station?

You can often hear something like: “China has much more money for space. But he only makes a space station, and not that big. Roskosmos is much poorer, it simply cannot handle such a thing. Yes, we are launching such a fossil as the Science module only this summer - although it has long been unable to do anything!"

Indeed, the story with Nauka may raise doubts that Roskosmos will launch at least three modules of the Russian orbital station in a few years.If one module has been made for a quarter of a century, will it be possible to make three in a few years? We would be very happy if it did not work out: this, objectively, would accelerate the development of our astronautics in the 2020s. But, alas, there is no doubt that Roscosmos will be able to create these modules and turn them into a station.


How does this fit in with the sad experience of Nauka? It's simple: to interpret news from government agencies, you need to have the art of understanding how this news is formed there. If the reader has not worked in such an institution, it will seem to him that he understands the news from there, but in fact he will often make mistakes.

This was exactly the case with the Science module. The standard version of his story is simple: they began to build in the 90s, they wanted to launch it in 2007, found blockages in the pipes and could not fix it for many years. In general, everything is according to the classics: “How long have we lived,” Polesov said ironically, “yesterday I ran around the whole city, I could not get three-eighths of an inch of dies. There is not. No! And they are going to start the tram!"

Let's try to evaluate this epic story in a balanced and detached way. At first, Nauka was made as a backup for the Zarya module for the ISS. It was supposed to provide the station with electricity from powerful solar panels and store fuel for orbit adjustments. But with Zorya everything turned out well, so she did not need an understudy. And what was the point in launching Nauka at that time? What would they do with it if the ISS's need for electricity and fuel for adjustments has already been met?

If you ask the opinion of the workers in the space industry themselves, then they do not hide: at first they planned to use Nauka as … a warehouse of unnecessary (American) things. For money, of course:

“In 2005-2006, there was a lack of space on the ISS for storing scientific equipment,” explains Sergey Kuznetsov, General Designer of the Salyut Design Bureau (part of the Khrunichev Center). - Therefore, it was envisaged to give a lot of space in MLM ("Science") for a warehouse. Our American colleagues were ready to pay extra to put an extra box in the module for storage … But by the beginning of the 2010s, there was no longer a shortage of storage space. NASA docked additional modules. And there was no need to launch our module as a warehouse. Therefore, it was finalized so that we could carry out the maximum number of scientific experiments in it. They have installed a cabin for the cosmonaut."

In other words, the media tells us a little different from what it was in practice. Since 1995, no one has built any "scientific module". There was no place for the cosmonauts either. At first it was created simply as a backup module in case something went wrong with Zorya. Then they wanted to hand over the module to their monetary colleagues at the station, and only when it did not work out, they began to make a cabin, instruments and so on there.


But what about blockages in pipelines? To begin with, it is worth asking: has anyone ever seen the official statement of Roscosmos: “they found blockages and debris in the pipelines of Nauka, so …”? The author was unable to find a single person to whom he had read such a statement. It never happened: all this information came to the media through "leaks". Any journalist working with organizations like Roscosmos knows very well that there are not so many leaks from there that are not coordinated with one or another part of his leadership.

True, it is interesting: they did not officially declare anything, but unofficially, the story of the blockages immediately leaked? And here are the weirder details of this puzzle. A journalist asks industry workers:

“I spoke with many specialists from RSC Energia and from Khrunichev. An unambiguous answer to the question "Was there a marriage?" never got it. In "Energia" they refer to the conclusion of specialists who disassembled one of the blocks of the fuel system and found contamination there. But what did the foreign particles look like? Shrug their shoulders. How could they get into a closed system? "Well, since 1995, you never know what could have happened …""

Let's pay attention: what the particles looked like, what they were from, who exactly saw them - no one knows.Even in the space industry. Apart from pipelines, similar rumors - again, without official statements - circulated about Nauka's fuel tanks. The bottom line? “At Khrunichev they solved the problem themselves: the fuel tanks were disassembled, meticulously checked, tested - no microcracks and dirt were found. And then they put it in place."

The question arises: if no one can specifically indicate whether there was dirt, then why was "Science" marinated on Earth right up until 2021? Why didn't you launch it earlier? We will answer the question with a question: what would she do there in the presence of the same number of astronauts? Standing idle while waiting for their working hours? In addition, it was simply marinated for people from the side of "Science". For workers in the Russian space industry, “pickling” it was very useful. From an interview with them:

“Removing, cleaning and reassembling the entire system was ineffective. We cut all valves and pipelines. And you can't put them back. So that Nauka could fly, new production was mastered at Khrunichev, in order to manufacture units and pipelines. We have re-created 576 pipelines … But, as they say, a silver lining. Now everything on MLM is new except for propulsion engines and tanks."

All this happened during the years of desperate shortage of orders and poverty in our space industry. The delay of Science on Earth meant new work, new orders, new money - new production at Khrunichev. What sane employee of a state organization would refuse such a thing?

Let's summarize. When people at the top think that they are cutting funding for space, it does not mean that they can really cut it. You can always draw up an act according to which garbage will be found in the pipelines (and it doesn't matter that no one has seen it). True, no one really saw the trash themselves. But can this really become an obstacle to financing new production at Khrunichev? With this sauce, you can change the contents of the module from residential to warehouse, from warehouse to scientific, and so on. If it were not for the physical aging of the ISS and the reluctance of the United States to build the next international station, it would be possible to find wool with the smell of sulfur on Nauka - there would be a reason for disassembling and manufacturing new systems.


So, everything is clear with "Science". But can we make several new modules in the next few years? After all, judging by "Science", we have lost the experience of building module cases? To quote all the interviews about Science:

"Is it true that Russia has lost the experience of creating such complex corps like the MLM corps?" - I ask, remembering another article by the "expert". And again Varochko looks at me in surprise: “Now in the neighborhood there are six more such“buildings”! These are parts of the first stage of the Proton rocket! We have not lost any skills: we can both manufacture and carry out the wiring of equipment. But it is important for us to continue creating such stations”.

Conclusion: technically it is quite realistic. Moreover, after the actual curtailment of the production of "Protons", making modules for the orbital station from parts of its first stage is a logical decision. The vacated production capacities must be occupied with something.

Finally, the leadership of Roscosmos is right when it notes that two modules of the future station have actually been created and are now being equipped. This is the “Prichal” nodal module, which will allow the station to dock and “connect” new modules, and a scientific and power module capable of providing it with electricity from large-scale solar panels.

The creation of a new orbital station does not mean that the Russian modules in orbit will immediately be detached from it and flooded into the ocean. Most likely, they will try to transfer them to Western partners, as the leadership of Roskosmos has already stated. There is nothing unrealistic about this, since the Russian modules can be used to store unnecessary experimental equipment from the western bays.

Why do modern orbital stations fall short of the ideas of Tsiolkovsky and von Braun?

However, our main problem is not at all whether Russia is capable of building a new station or what will happen to its modules at the old one. There is a much more pressing question. Our orbital stations still fall short of the ideas of Tsiolkovsky in 1903 - and in their current form, the construction of new ones will give little

In 1903, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first expressed the idea that people can create an artificial analogue of gravity in space - by making their stations rotating there. And in 1936, the Soviet science fiction writer Belyaev portrayed an extremely advanced circular orbital station in the story "The Star of the KEC". The station consisted of a donut. As the donut spun, the centrifugal force on the outside mimicked gravity - even stronger than Earth's if desired. As we approached the center, the conditions gradually changed, and in the center there was already full-fledged weightlessness. This allows you to organize any experiments with the widest range of gravity - from zero to earth level.

Since 1946, similar projects of ring stations were proposed by Wernher von Braun for the USA, where he was taken from Germany. The diameter of the ring was assumed to be 76 meters, the rotation speed was three revolutions per minute. This made it possible to create an artificial analogue of gravity, approximately equal to the Martian one.


It may seem that the creation of gravity on the "von Braun wheel" (or, if you will, the Tsiolkovsky wheel) is meaningless. Orbital stations are needed for experiments in conditions that do not exist on Earth. Why do artificial gravity in space? There are reasons, however - and they are very significant. There is no reason for humans to live in outer space: there is more than enough space and resources on Earth. But it makes sense to live on Mars and other bodies of the solar system.

As we already wrote, without people it is impossible to seriously investigate other celestial bodies. All attempts by robots in this exhaustively show that without a person it will not even be possible to understand whether there is life on the Red Planet. It is clear that it is completely unrealistic to study any more complex issues without a base. Finally, Elon Musk is right when he notes that the long-term survival of any species on one planet is practically impossible. Accordingly, we will either become a multiplanetary species or disappear.

The force of gravity on the same fourth planet is only 0.38 from the earth. If a woman becomes pregnant on Mars, will her embryo develop normally? From the point of view of radiation, this is definitely quite safe. Indeed, even on the surface of the Red Planet, radiation is only 0.23 sievert per year, and the fetus is well protected by a liquid that absorbs cosmic rays. In addition, a person spends most of his time indoors, where the background radiation is much lower.

But what about the effect of gravity? From experiments on the ISS it is known that under full weightlessness, mouse embryos do not develop normally. However, this is at 0G, and what will happen at 0.38G is not yet known to science.

Other questions also arise. It is known for sure that under weightlessness, the bones and muscles of a person quickly degrade from insufficient load, losing mass. What would be the situation for Martian gravity? Or lunar? Many are proposing to equip future Martian bases and colonies with compact sleep centrifuges. What will become of a person if he sleeps for eight hours at 1-1, 2 of the earth's gravity, and during the day he will work at 0, 38G? Will his bones and muscles remain strong? You won't know all this without the roundabout station.

Nothing prevents it from maintaining 1-1, 2 G in the outer ring, and Martian or lunar gravity in the inner ring. In the "axis" of the Tsiolkovsky wheel, 0G can also be maintained, so that experiments typical for the ISS can be done at the same station.

Alas, in practice, the orbital stations do not have any of this, and in the foreseeable future they will not. The fact is that now such stations are used according to the principle of the character of a well-known anecdote: "I drank, it is hard for me to look for keys in the dark of the street where I lost them, so here is a street lamp, it is light under it, and I will look there."

An orbital station in the form of a Tsiolkovsky wheel is difficult to make from pieces of the first stage of the Proton. Here it is necessary to create something new, to think, and not to load existing production facilities left over from the era of commercial flights of Protons. Yes, the circular station has much more scientific meaning. But the administrators of Roskosmos suggest that the authorities build stations in order to spend less on space, and not to make more sense from them.


There are other problems as well. The Roskosmos management publicly asked why to fly to Mars and the Moon - that is, it showed a limited understanding of the need for space exploration. Naturally, such people find it difficult to understand why studies of the influence of Martian and lunar gravity on the human body or animal embryogenesis are needed. They'd better explore all of this in zero gravity - though none of our species would ever live with it.

A spoonful of honey in a barrel of ointment: why national stations are better and cheaper than international ones

The usual reaction of most citizens to international space projects is overwhelmingly positive. They say that "space is expensive, you can't master it one by one, it's better to juggle it." However, these considerations are purely theoretical and not derived from observation of practice. If we turn to it, we will notice something strange. National space stations are cheaper than international ones and carry out significantly more experiments per unit of time - that is, they are more effective.

Take the American Skylab station from the 1970s. In modern money, it was worth 12 billion dollars (hereinafter - in modern dollars). The facility was built in just one unmanned flight (plus repairs in the second, manned). After the construction of the station, the United States was forced to stop flying into space, otherwise NASA would not have enough money for the Shuttles. However, even despite being abandoned, the station existed in orbit for many years after the last human visit.

Skylab was not permanently inhabited because the States had nothing to transport people there. To compare it relatively honestly with the ISS, it is necessary to take the price of a day of an astronaut's stay there and recalculate it based on the constant habitability. For a couple of thousand days of existence, Skylab, with a typical crew of three, would give six thousand man-days.

Yes, flying to the station every three months would require an additional 20 flights of Saturn IB rockets - or another seven billion dollars. It turns out that with constant operation, the only American space station in history would receive astronauts for less than $ 3.2 million per day per person.

But for the ISS, the cost of an American man-day on board is exactly $ 9 million per day. Feel the difference, as they say. And we have not yet taken into account the obvious fact that with regular manned flights to Skylab it could have existed much longer than the six years that it got without constant orbit adjustments (like the modern ISS). In other words, the cost gap between Skylab and the ISS is actually multiple. We will not even compare the cost of Mir and the ISS, since the gap is even stronger there.


Why is the unit price of a national station lower than that of an international one? As we have mentioned more than once, the bulk of the cost of space programs is their development (R&D). The national station includes something that has been developed in the same cultural environment by often long-known players in the space industry. There is no need for "grinding" the supplier to the consumer - or it is minimal. But this is not the case with the international project: in order for the locks to dock, something needs to be changed in the design. In order for the power supply of the station to be compatible, someone's "national" standard should be chosen, and then the rest of the project participants will adapt to it. All this can significantly raise the cost of R&D.

The situation with the intensity of space experiments is no less interesting.Observations of great scientific significance were carried out on Skylab, although people in total did not stay on it for six months. In total, about 300 studies were carried out there for 510 person-days (0, 59 studies per person-day).

For almost 15 years of work, 23,000 scientific experiments have been carried out at Mir. That is, the number of experiments per person-day came out even more than that of Skylab. However, it is not surprising for a "habitable" station with permanent residence of people. But at the ISS, despite tens of thousands of man-days spent by people on board, the intensity of experiments is much lower. The situation as a whole was summed up well by the well-known popularizer of space Vitaly Egorov:


“In the opinion of many cosmonauts and experts, Russian participation in the ISS looks like a setback in comparison with Mir: flights have become semi-annual (that is, much shorter than before, which makes it more difficult to study the impact of space on humans. - Ed.), in rare exceptions there are more, fewer experiments are performed, the closed loop of the internal environment has also decreased, and the dependence on ground control has increased. On Mir, for example, water could be used several times, and fresh water is regularly brought to the ISS. It is more comfortable for cosmonauts, but there will be no such luxury in a long flight."

Why are international stations both more expensive and less effective than national ones? The situation is accurately described by the famous phrase from Russian folklore: "in the collective farm field - every gopher is an agronomist."

Some country wants to see what will happen to its cosmonaut in one and a half to two years in orbit? It won't work without big problems. After all, the outbound and return flight schedule must be coordinated with all international partners. The likelihood that NASA will want the same thing in the same time period is low. There is a large detachment of astronauts, where there is always a queue, and the Americans want to "pass through space" more people.


And besides, the transportation of people to the ISS is parity: you have taken so many of ours in Shuttles (until 2011) and Dragons (since last year) - which means that we must compensate for this by transportation in Soyuz. A lot of small approvals ultimately eliminate the flexibility in decision making by the national space agencies. It turns out a typical "collective farm": each national participant wants his own. In order for the ISS to move, both the swan, the crayfish and the pike have to compromise, abandoning a significant part of their own plans.

The most interesting thing is that national space stations do not exclude international cooperation at all. The same "Mir" was visited by many American astronauts, and the record for the duration of the flight of female astronauts was set there, and not at all on the ISS. But while the station is national, all issues of cooperation are decided at the negotiations of space agencies, which remember who is the boss in this house. And they do not negatively affect the schedule of the national station. Its owner, the National Space Agency, is simply not obliged to make the kind of compromises that disrupt its schedules.

We're pretty sure a similar pattern will be observed on Mars in the 2030s. The presence of a person there will take place either within the framework of individual national programs, or will turn out to be extremely ineffective and associated with constant organizational problems. Fortunately, the second option is unlikely: relations between the United States, on the one hand, and China and Russia, on the other, are extremely bad today, and there are no prospects for their improvement.

If national stations are so good, why did politicians and space agencies decide to build the ISS at all?

At one time, the States also voted for an international space station, not a national American station. Why? It should be recalled here: the ISS was built at a time when the United States could fly into space only on the Shuttles. And this activity is not only expensive, but also very risky.

Since 1986, after the Challenger disaster, it has become clear that the Shuttles are extremely dangerous. After each emergency, their flights were stopped for years.This is quite reasonable: you need to find out the reasons for what happened, so as not to ditch another shuttle with a new flight.


How can you build a national station, when at any moment you can be cut off from your own space flights for years?

With the ISS, this problem did not arise. Yes, after the next disaster of the Shuttle in 2003, the Americans themselves did not fly into space for a couple of years. So what? They were regularly brought and transported to the Soyuz, which had not had a single disaster after 1971. In 2011-2019, astronauts could not fly into space at all. So what? The US simply paid Roscosmos $ 3.9 billion to get its people into orbit. If for a Russian corporation this is a whole annual budget, then for the States it is dust, tenths of a percent of the amount of dollars printed in just one last year.

So, earlier the meaning of the ISS for NASA was - and great. Now the situation has changed dramatically. The Dragons look like reliable ships, without the riskiness of the Shuttles. Suffice it to say that they, like the Soyuz, have an emergency rescue system. In parallel with the Dragons and their carriers, the Falcons, the States are developing two more new ships and missiles for them. If one type turns out to be emergency, use another.


Consequently, now the United States does not need an inexpensive service to transport its people to the orbital station. Accordingly, it makes sense to make all of their next stations only national. If someone else's cosmonauts will fly there, then as guests - like foreign ones, they flew to the Soviet and Russian Mir.

If a country has manned astronautics, only an openly blind person can close it. Even a politician understands that this is a PR disaster, so he will not do it.

Why the Russian space station shouldn't be happy

The space specialist understands that this is a disaster for the future, because manned space is not nearly as expensive as people think, while bringing a lot of scientific information. The scientific results of astronauts on the moon are much greater than those of lunar rovers there. And the same can be said about any heavenly body where a person's foot ever sets.

However, one must understand that there is still nothing for Russia to fly to the Moon and Mars, and most importantly, as we noted above, Roscosmos is headed by a person who has not yet understood why this is necessary. Today, our country is formally working on super-heavy missiles. But in reality all of them are still being developed mainly on paper. But new modules for the future space station do exist in metal.


Finally, the costs of a new space station are actually much less than they seem. Yes, it will cost $ 5-6 billion for 2021-2030. But, to tell the truth, Russia cannot reduce the number of people in the space industry: if this is done, then it will be necessary to start a new production of space technology from scratch, which will be even more expensive. So we will spend $ 0.6 billion a year either on an orbital station, or simply on salaries for employees of the same Roscosmos enterprises, but without any noticeable real return. Obviously, the first option is better.

Another thing is no less obvious: this is a road to a dead end. Modern space stations are a rapidly obsolete concept that makes sense only before the start of regular flights of Elon Musk's Starship. The internal habitable volume of such a spacecraft in orbit is equal to the volume of the entire ISS - and much more than the volume of the future Russian station.

Even Rogozin hardly rates his capabilities as a manager high enough to believe that ROS will be in space before Starship. This means that we are building something that will be fundamentally outdated from the very beginning of operation.

The most reasonable investment for the Russian space industry today would be to abandon the creation of a new orbital station and concentrate all available funds on creating an analogue of Starship. This will have to be done anyway, but if along the way we spend money on an unnecessary orbital station, then we risk losing both money and time.

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