MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) - Aside from the Spektr and Radioastron projects, Russia has other plans to study and explore celestial bodies. For example, the Koronas-Foton spacecraft, due to be launched in 2008, will be packed with instruments for observing the Sun.
In addition, Russia expects to begin the Phobos-Ground project in 2009, which will be the country's first interplanetary mission in 20 years. It will bring back ground samples from Phobos, one of Mars' two moons.
Scientists believe Phobos is made of the primeval proto-planet cloud substance that eventually formed all other bodies in the Solar System, including Planet Earth. It would be quite interesting to analyze Phobos ground samples in laboratories back on our home planet.
The new federal program also contains the Moon-Globe project, whose goals are to study the Moon's internal structure, locate water inside a "cold trap" on the lunar pole, pinpoint the Moon's core and calculate its diameter. This project is also significant because the Moon is seen as a staging area for the exploration of Mars under Russia's applied lunar program.
Space plasma physics is still a highly important element of the national space program. The Interball project obtained some unique experimental results in this field in the 1990s. That project involved two main spacecraft and two sub-satellites, which conducted a detailed and simultaneous study of processes taking place inside the terrestrial magnetosphere's different sections. Moreover, the project intended to separate their spatial and temporal variations.
As a result, scientists gained an insight into the cause-and-effect relations of these processes. Such knowledge makes it possible to compile forecasts of the weather in space that highlight the influence of solar activity.
Russia's Rezonans project will continue to study space plasma physics. It involves launching into orbit a double-satellite system in 2012 to study the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with charged particles inside the Earth's inner magnetosphere and conducting active experiments there. The results of such experiments will facilitate a quantitative assessment of high-energy particles' behavior inside terrestrial radiation belts, allowing researchers to predict their state and future magnetic anomalies that may negatively affect people's lives.
As for manned space missions, starting in 2007, Russia will begin to overhaul its manned and cargo spacecraft, upgrading Soyuz space vehicles during the first stage. As a rule, each Soyuz crew consists of two professional astronauts and one space tourist. The revamped Soyuz, due to lift off in 2011, will carry two professionals and two passengers. Most importantly, it will be able to dock with the International Space Station, fly around the Moon and return to Earth at speeds of about 25,000 miles per hour, the equivalent of its escape velocity.
The second stage of the planned overhaul involves the development of the Parom (Ferry) reusable transport system, which will replace the Progress cargo craft. The Parom system will comprise a reusable orbiter and expendable 12-metric-ton freight containers. This is a remarkable achievement because Progress spacecraft can now deliver just 2.5 metric tons of dry and liquid cargo to the ISS.
The third stage will witness the launch of a Kliper-type reusable space shuttle featuring technologies that will be streamlined during the first and second stages.
Finally, a new reusable advanced launch vehicle will also be developed under the Russian-French Ural program. It will burn liquid hydrogen and oxygen or methane as an engine fuel.
Russia's eight-module segment of the ISS is to be completed by 2011, making it possible to conduct full-fledged scientific experiments and applied research aboard the station.
A manned mission to the Red Planet is also being contemplated under the federal space program. Data from experiments show that mission timetables and costs will mostly be determined by the future spacecraft's electric rocket engines. A propulsion unit with thin-walled solar batteries has so far been chosen as the basic element, though a modular nuclear propulsion unit may end up being used.
The proposed expeditionary system must allow for five missions to Mars involving one and the same interplanetary spacecraft and a solar-powered reusable tug during the initial stage. These expeditions will choose and study the appropriate site for a manned Martian base.
Six volunteers currently being chosen for the Mars-Man-500 project, i.e. a simulated mission to the Red Planet, will spend 520 days inside a spacecraft module mock-up.
Experts believe a space crew may fly to Mars between 2020 and 2030.
Lev Zelyony, director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said space exploration now owes most of its achievements to automatic, rather than manned, spacecraft. Nevertheless, he said, humans will land on Mars sooner or later, even if the mission has no point other than simply putting a man there for the first time, because listening to an astronaut describe his sensations as he stood on the surface of another planet would be priceless.
Yury Zaitsev is an expert at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences