Russian Rocket Scientists do not Want to Give Cosmos Away to China
17.08.2009 — Analysis
The Ekaterinburg NPO Automation has signed a contract with TsSKB-Progress (State Research and Production Space-Rocket Center) for the development of a conceptual design for a promising carrier rocket management system. The Vostochny Space Center has to be completed in a short time to launch these rockets. The specialists will have to make a technological breakthrough in rocket engineering as the commercial launch competition is growing stronger. Lev Belsky, Deputy Director General of NPO Automation, told RusBusinessNews how Russians are going to work on this problem.
- Mr. Belsky, what would be the principal difference between the new rocket and the world famous carriers Soyuz?
- By 2015 we will have to develop an inexpensive reliable rocket which must not get too outdated by 2040. So, we need a new management system which we have to develop in the conditions which are far from being easy. Initially it was planned that the carrier will have the payload of about 14 tons. Then RSC Energia representatives informed us that the spacecraft will weigh at least 17 tons. Then the developers suggested, for the protection of the crew from meteors, the armour plating of the craft which added further 6 tons to the weight. The Energia Corporation's proposal for the piloted craft has won the tender and we got the headache, since, in contrast to US developers, we are limited in terms of the choice of components. This is why we have to engage our entire intellectual potential.
In the new rocket we suggested getting rid of most of the onboard cable network, which weighs many hundreds of kilos. Converting analogue signals to codes we will replace the numerous circuits by the two wires of the digital line. As well as reducing the weight we would also be able to significantly reduce the numbers of people needed for the launch preparation. The reliability of the rocket and of its launches will only increase with this.
Moreover, we suggest stopping the practice of installing the entire management system on the last rocket stage, having distributed the electronic equipment on peripheral and central blocks. The weight savings can be used for the payload. This is the principle which we are going to employ at the Vostochny Space Center.
In the future we are ready to undertake the development of the system for the return of the first rocket stage back to Earth. This will allow us to re-use the first rocket stage engines which are the most expensive.
- You mentioned the weakness of component sources. Would this not affect the production of the proposed management system?
- Yes, we are well behind the enlightened West in terms of the production of components. However, we have to manage with what we have since all our carrier rockets, as a rule, have dual purpose and it is prohibited for us to use imported components in onboard systems. We do try and maintain close ties with domestic producers, we lobby their interests. Many developments in the microprocessor sphere happen, so to say, through our initiative. Also we continuously keep looking for promising components and parts. What there is on offer for us, however, is still behind the offers of the Western market. I do hope that through these new developments we will be able to develop the management system for the new rocket with a good future. Then it will be up to the authorities to make decisions regarding the development of component producers. There are different approaches to the problem; the Japanese, for instance, have practically no developments of their own but purchase licenses and build whole plants for the advanced electronics production.
- It is expected that piloted launches from the Vostochny Space Center will begin as early as 2018. Does this mean that Russia will soon stop using Baikonur?
- No, it does not. Launches from Baikonur will continue. We expect the modernized Soyuz-2 to have lifetime no shorter than that of Korolyov's Soyuz-7. Six launches and there were no complaints so far. It is expected that this rocket will deliver Meridian, Meteor, and other satellites into orbit. The possibility to deliver GLONASS satellites is also being considered. The Soyuz rocket today holds practically all our piloted space programme together - cargo ships are being launched for the needs of the interplanetary space station, piloted missions are carried out. For instance, a group of our specialists will be visiting Baikonur in September for the launch of a Soyuz-2 rocket. This kind of carrier will be employed for the delivery of a satellite to orbit from the French Kourou Space Center. The operational crew will have the wonderful opportunity to learn.
- You mentioned the joint Russian-French project of the carrier rocket launch from the Kourou Space Center. When will the launch happen?
- It has been officially declared that the first launch will happen on 29 December 2009. The French representatives, however, consider the first week of 2010 as the most likely date for the launch. Roscosmos specialists claim that the agreement is signed for the launch in April next year.
The main and the backup rockets should be delivered to the Space Center in November. We have completed the work with our equipment, tested and certified it, we are ready to work with the rocket. The French are keeping to the project deadlines as well. The service tower, a special construction used for the assembly of the rocket, is the tightest spot to all appearances. There has been a delay with its construction. The media published reports that Mir, a Moscow company, that was supposed to be making the large size construction, has suffered a raider attack. A year has been wasted and this affected the launch timeframe.
- Does the international cooperation give anything to Russian enterprises in terms of the technological development?
- Of course it does. We now have the opportunity to go to their plants and see how they work. We have already learned a few valuable lessons. We have a gyrostabilized platform on Soyuz-2 which is a rather complex electrical and mechanical contraption that provides a stationary, relatively to the stars, coordinate system.
The French installed the gimballess inertial navigation system based on laser gyros on the Ariane craft. We have been talking about this solution for quite some time now, but have not done anything practical as yet. Now we are discussing with TsSKB-Progress how we can carry out the test launch with a gimballess system. On the whole our impressions are that the French have a better developed market and that there is a healthy competition. In Russia, however, it happens quite often that the winner of a tender is a company whose technical solution is not the best.
- Don't Russian peculiarities associated with excessive corruption and raiding get in the way of competing in the international market?
- The competition is growing. China is consistently working on its space programme. They had declared in the nineties that a Chinese man will be in space, and the country fulfilled the promise. And if they say that in the twenties of this century the Chinese will fly to the Moon, it will be so. Even the crisis manifests in China not so painfully. The country does have the money, and the combination of planning and market relationships does give astounding results. Already China makes dumping price offers on the space equipment market. This is the most palpable competitor for all countries.
The China factor makes us look for new niches in the marketplace. Rocket scientists and system integrators work on the problem of the payload increase. It is a common knowledge in the market that the delivery of one kilo of payload to orbit costs around 10,000 U.S. dollars. 10 kilos of extra payload means the whole 100 thousand. Reducing the weight we make the carrier cheaper. This is why there appeared the idea of developing a lighter class rocket by getting rid of side blocks and replacing the central block engine. Considering the market, it looks like the project will be competitive. There is a lot of light satellites now, including those weighing just a few kilos (so called nano-satellites). It would be totally inexpedient to use medium-class rockets of the Soyuz-2 type to deliver these to orbit. The development of a light-class rocket is yet another promising sphere for our efforts.
By Vladimir Terletski
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