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International station to orbit Moon at 70,000 km distance from Earth

None of the countries has allocated funds to finance this project so far, according to Roscosmos

SOCHI, October 20. /TASS/. The option of creating an international station in a high near-Moon orbit with a 70,000 km apogee (the Moon orbit’s farthest point from the Earth’s center) has been approved as the basic version, Roscosmos Piloted Space Programs Executive Director Sergei Krikalyov told TASS on Friday.

"The question was about whether to fly to a low near-Moon orbit at an altitude of 100-200 km, from which it would be easier to land on the Moon, or to opt for a highly elliptical orbit with an apogee of about 70,000 km," Krikalyov said on the sidelines of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students.

"It [the highly elliptical orbit] is unstable and has its own advantages and disadvantages. It can be used as a transitional point, from which it is possible to fly both to the Moon and into deep space. After weighing all the arguments for and against, we decided that cooperation in a high near-Moon orbit is the most effective next step," he said.

As Krikalyov specified, none of the countries has allocated funds to finance this project so far. The negotiations on creating the Deep Space Gateway station in the Moon’s orbit have been going on for several years now.

What the sides agreed upon

"At the first stage, we will be building an orbital part with the further prospect of using tested technologies on the surface of the Moon and eventually Mars," Roscosmos CEO Igor Komarov said in September after the negotiations between the heads of the Russian and US space agencies held in Australia.

The Roscosmos head noted at that time that the sides had preliminarily discussed contributions by the participating countries. "The creation of one to three modules can be our contribution," Komarov said.

At the same time, Roscosmos Director for Piloted Programs Sergey Krikalyov noted at the time that apart from the gateway module, Russia could develop other components for the new station.

The Roscosmos head stressed at the time that the countries’ technological contribution and the project’s financial aspect would be discussed at the next stage of negotiations.

"The agreement itself requires serious elaboration already at the government level," he said.

The participation of the association of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries in the project was also approved.

Deep Space Gateway project

The plans to create a near-Moon station were unveiled in the spring of 2016. TASS reported at that time, citing the documents of Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation, that preliminary work was under way with the US Boeing Company on the issues of creating near-Moon infrastructure in support of the national space agencies’ future plans.

Two options of the lunar orbital station project were considered: an orbiter based on two small inhabitable modules or one bigger module. Both concepts stipulate that four persons can work aboard the station. Expeditions are expected to last from 30 to 360 days. The flights to the station will be performed once a year.

Two options are also on the table for the station’s accommodation: a highly elliptical orbit and a low orbit at an altitude of about 100 km above the Moon’s surface. The first option will allow sending spacecraft into deep space and the other can be used for expeditions to the Moon’s surface.

Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation has proposed starting the creation of the near-Moon orbital platform in late 2022 and send the first crew to it in the first half of 2025.

According to public sources, NASA’s plans indicate that the first module may be sent to the near-Moon orbit in 2023. This will be the Power and Propulsion Bus. In 2024, two inhabitable modules will be added to it. The modules are expected to be launched with the help of a US SLS heavy-class carrier rocket while the crews will be delivered aboard Orion space vehicles. There are also plans to develop a resupply ship.