Mir 2 Space, the Final Russian Frontier

The first country in space says it will help to fund the International Space Station until 2024, but then build its own station.
Orbiting on borrowed time. Russia says it will help support the International Space Station until 2024, then build its own.

Russia plans to continue funding the International Space Station until 2024, but then said it will build its own space outpost, using parts from the ISS.

“Manned space travel is part of Russia’s overall strategic interests in space,” said Juri Koptjew, head of the science council at Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

Using the new space station as a platform, Roscosmos plans manned travel to the moon after 2030, the agency said.

The ISS partnership – led by Russia, Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan – was launched in 1998. The aging orbiter is to be mothballed in the next decade and so far only Russia has pledged funding beyond 2020.

An official with the European Space Agency, which includes Germany as a member, told Russian news agency RIA Nowosti that he welcomed Russia’s intention to fund the space station until 2024.

Russia’s new plans emphasize its ambitions in space and send a new political signal in a keenly contested area.

Russia’s plans signal its new, aggressive ambitions in space.

U.S. space agency NASA, which ended space shuttle flights in 2011, has said it intends to resume manned space travel in 2017. Currently, NASA is dependent on Russian rockets and transport capsules to ferry equipment and astronauts into space.

China is also forging ahead with its own space projects.

Roscosmos was restructured in a merger last month with the recently formed state rocket company. The boss of the rocket maker, Igor Komarow, became head of the newly merged Roscosmos in January.

When he took the job, Mr. Komarow said changes at the agency were influenced by Russian foreign policy and Western sanctions. The task of the newly fused space agency is to “improve Russia’s competitive position,” he said, and secure “parity and superiority regarding geopolitical opponents.”

Sanctions in reaction to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine are affecting the state-run space industry. In the past, Russia imported 90 percent of microelectronic rocket and satellite parts from the West.

Since last summer, however, those components have been embargoed.

The Russian vice premier, Dmitrij Rogosin, wants to get around the bottleneck by creating Russia’s own microelectronics space parts facility. Western sanctions are “a test of the Russian national character,” said Mr. Rogosin, who is responsible for military and space travel.

The Russian space agency is suffering amid budget cuts imposed during the economic crisis. That makes it difficult to compete with private space contractors, such as SpaceX, a firm run by Tesla boss Elon Musk, and British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

 

Video: Former ISS commander Chris Hadfield explains how astronauts brush their teeth in space.

 

Back in the Soviet era, space travel was the pride of Russia. Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 became the first man in space, is still celebrated as a national hero. The Soviets later launched their own space station, Mir, but it was scrapped by the post-communist government in 2001, causing national alarm.

Now experts see Russia’s new space plans as a kind of “Mir 2.”

Russia is also working on other space projects. In the Amur region near China, a new space facility is being planned. All Russian spaceships and satellites will eventually be launched from there.

Moscow has invested $2.5 billion in the project since 2010, and another $1 billion is earmarked this year.

President Vladimir Putin calls it the “biggest project nationwide.”

 

The author writes about Russia for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]