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MOSCOW, April 12 (Itar-Tass) - Russia is creating a new spaceship, ready for interplanetary missions, head of the Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) Vladimir Popovkin said on Cosmonautics Day on Friday at a Business Breakfast in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.
According to him, “The engineering design of the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation has already been completed. The full-scale engineering development and the creation of experimental units will be started soon. The timeframe has not changed: in 2018, the first flight of a new unmanned spacecraft is to take place. But it will be a principally new ship ready for interplanetary flights.”
However, the new manned spacecraft in itself is not a solution. “It is necessary to develop... a prospective manned transportation system, which includes both a heavy carrier rocket and various manned systems,” Popovkin is certain.
He also said that “the gradual modification of the Soyuz manned spacecraft is currently underway.” “We have made the digital control system, modernised the rendezvous system. The life support system and propulsion system are to be next.”
With taking into account the possible interplanetary Russia is for the first time creating a “compact nuclear power plant with a capacity of 1000 kW with electric-jet propulsion system engines.” “This is a megawatt-class unit. Its development opens up principally new opportunities in space, makes it possible to take a new look on the use of geostationary orbits,” the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency explained. “By comparison, the solar arrays of the International Space Station (ISS) generate about 100 kW. But the station is on a near-Earth orbit. And a flight to Mars, for example, would require an area of solar arrays comparable to a dozen football fields!”
According to Popovkin, “It is possible that the engines will run on pure xenon, heated to very high temperatures. And this will make it possible to get the propellant specific impulse 20 times higher than in the chemical engines. The most important for us is the way the module with such energy can be used: in inter-orbital tugs, multifunctional platforms and spacecraft for interplanetary missions. There are no such analogues in the world.”
But there are two problems: “What the reactor itself and its cooling system should be like. A unique cooling system is based on the drop method, which we have theoretically confirmed on Earth. I think that next year we will conduct such an experiment on the ISS to show that it works also in outer space.”
“We plan to make a prototype model of the nuclear propulsion system with the capacity of some 250 kW by 2018,” Popovkin promised.