The Russian Space Agency says it will send an unmanned spacecraft to the moon in 2015 from a new launch pad in the country's Far East.
Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that the rocket booster would deliver a 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) space exploration vehicle with up to 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of scientific equipment that would search for water and take soil samples.
Popovkin said the moon-bound spacecraft would be launched from Russia`s new Vostochny cosmodrome. President Vladimir Putin has vowed to invest $1 billion in building this launch pad in the Amur Region not far from the Chinese border.
Russia`s last and only moon mission was accomplished in 1973. NASA has confirmed that the United States is involved in the program alongside Russia and nine other countries, and said it was aimed at enhancing the human presence in the Solar system and had the long-term goal of manned exploration of Mars. Moon exploration would help cosmonauts learn how to live and work on other planets and would create a foundation for further Martian efforts.
By 2020, the long-gestating and as yet untested Angara rocket will become the chief means of launching Russian loads, replacing the trusted Soyuz and Proton, which have been in use since the mid-1960s. The new rocket will be headed by a new piloted spaceship carrying six astronauts, instead of the current three. No concrete project for such a spaceship currently exists.
The launches will be made from the brand-new Vostochny cosmodrome in the east of Russia, decreasing dependence on the outdated Baikonur facility, which is located outside of country’s borders in Kazakhstan and has to be rented. Construction on the $20 billion facility began last year, and is scheduled to wrap up in 2018.
By 2030 Russia will send sophisticated robots to collect moon samples, establish a series of moon bases, potentially launch a space station to orbit the moon. The program will be capped with a manned moon landing.
But these are just a dry run for a similar exploration of other planets, with probes to be sent to Jupiter and Venus. The plan states that in 18 years, the technology will make a flight to Mars possible. Beyond that date, Roscosmos and NASA are considering a joint program to send cosmonauts to the Red Planet, and establish a network of bases on its surface.
Previously, Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin claimed that the program would cost $5-7 billion a year. The strategy presupposes attracting private investors to supplement any costs, and will be supervised by a new government body – the Space Council.
A more immediate plan is the Luna Glob mission to the Moon scheduled for late 2015. It would include returning a soil sample to Earth and studying it from an orbiter, which would change its altitude from the initial 100 kilometers down to 50 kilometers and later to 500 kilometers. The soil would later be studied for possible extraction of water from it. /AzerTAc/