Russia is eyeing its own space station.
The country announced this week that it intends to withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) consortium after 2024. The timing of this move is unknown, but Russia wants it to match the readiness of the planned Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS). .
We’ve just got a better idea of what ROSS will look like and how it will work (if the outpost actually gets built) thanks to photos and information released by Roscosmos, Russia’s federal space agency. For example, the first phase of the outpost build, scheduled to begin in 2028, will apparently include a core module, a possible new supply ship, and a new transport vehicle. The second phase, expected to start in 2030, will add two larger modules.
On the subject: Russia says it will leave the International Space Station after 2024
However, the design of ROSS is by no means fixed; for example, it could be placed in a 51.6-degree orbit (similar to that of the ISS) or a circumpolar 97-degree orbit, depending on which orientation Russia considers more favorable among its launch pads.
Roscosmos presented the upcoming departure from the ISS as an opportunity to move to a new outpost.
“We need to decide what to do in the future, and already begin work on manned programs that will be implemented after this period,” Vladimir Solovyov said in a lengthy interview. (will open in a new tab) published on Tuesday (July 26) by Roscosmos, which discussed ROSS in detail.
Solovyov is Flight Director of the ISS Russian Segment and General Designer of RSC Energia, the general contractor of the Russian manned space flight program. Roscosmos interview in Russian; the translation was provided by Google.
Solovyov spoke about the aging Russian modules on the ISS, which has been accepting astronauts since November 2020, and about Russia’s apparent inconsistency with the new direction to the Moon that NASA is now using in its manned space flight program.
Solovyov said maintenance was becoming a problem for the Russian ISS modules, which are in some cases nearly 25 years old despite a 15-year design life.
“Recently, there has been a trend towards an increase in the time spent by astronauts on maintenance and repair of onboard systems that have exhausted their service life. The crew has less and less time to conduct scientific experiments,” Solovyov said.
Moreover, Russia has not expressed interest in joining other ISS partners in the NASA-led Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the lunar surface in 2025 or so. Solovyov’s comments actually suggest that Russia may not go to the Moon until after the Artemis coalition arrives if the schedules are kept.
“It is clear to us that before sending cosmonauts to the Moon, we must decide on the need for this serious and very expensive step,” Solovyov said.
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The new Russian space station will also represent a different “philosophy” of human spaceflight, Solovyov said, saying that Russian science on the ISS, and earlier on the Soviet-Russian Mir space station, hasn’t brought much return.
“It is no secret that for various reasons our space experiments on the ISS are not going very well, and the results on Mir were not very good,” he said in an interview that was published during the participation of ISS partners in a three-day scientific -ISS research conference (will open in a new tab) which ends on Thursday (July 28).
Solovyov said that the financing and fixed orientation of the International Space Station “are not always convenient for conducting a series of experiments to observe the Earth and space.” He also said that some high-energy experiments in materials science, for example, could not be performed due to “lack of available energy resources.”
How the new space station will solve these problems is unclear, but one important takeaway from a recently released interview is that Roscosmos would prefer that people only make occasional excursions to the new complex.
“To drink, feed, clothe, provide the crew with oxygen and water is quite expensive. In addition, flights partially outside the Earth’s magnetosphere increase the radiation dose of astronauts, which somewhat reduces the allowable duration of flights,” Solovyov said.
Cosmonauts will likely be assigned to visit ROSS for just a couple of months during the year to help Russian scientists with their experiments, which Solovyov says will include cosmic ray physics, space technology, and space materials science (including nanotechnology). They can also test robots and see the auroras.
Looking ahead, Solovyov suggested that ROSS could be used as a way station to help cosmonauts prepare for trips to the Moon or Mars, but he did not name a timetable for those trips to deep space.
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