Thursday, November 17, 2016

Russia Plans to Land Humans on the Moon in 2031

Russia’s Federation spacecraft at the moon. Image Credit: Roscosmos

Russia’s rocket and space corporation RKK Energia has recently laid out its plan of manned exploration of the Moon. The plan includes a crewed flight to the Moon in 2030 and landing of the first Russian on the lunar surface one year later.

RKK Energia CEO Vladimir Solntsev revealed on Tuesday, Nov. 15, that Russian flights to the Moon will enter the most crucial phase in 2026 when an unmanned mission around the Moon is planned. One year later, the company aims to launch a take-off and landing module to the Moon’s orbit. However, the biggest milestones are scheduled for 2029-2031.

"In 2029, there will be an unmanned flight of a new spacecraft to the Moon’s orbit. In the 2030s, we set the task of a manned flight to the Moon and in 2031 we plan landing on the Moon," Solntsev said.

The new vision of lunar exploration by Russia may seem to accelerate the country’s space program, but it is simply a postponement of the date of future Moon landing envisioned in earlier statements. Last year, Solntsev made remarks about the possible unmanned mission to the Moon in 2025 and the first manned lunar landing in 2029.

Sending first Russians to the Moon is strictly dependent on the development of the nation’s new-generation “Federation” spacecraft which will replace the aging Soyuz vehicle. With a mass of approximately 14.4 metric tons, Federation measures some 20 feet (6.1 meters) in length and will be used to deliver cosmonauts and cargo to the Moon and to space stations positioned in a low-Earth orbit. It will be also capable of sending crews to the Sun-Earth/Earth-Moon Lagrangian points.

Fedration is currently being developed by RKK Energia. The spacecraft is planned to by completed by 2021 to conduct its maiden test flight that year. Besides the first test flight, one uncrewed mission and one test mission of a crewed variant of the vehicle are scheduled for 2023.

Earlier statements made by the Roscosmos State Corporation revealed that Federation should be ready for sending cosmonauts to the Moon on a regular basis as soon as 2025. However, having in mind the recent RKK Energia’s announcement, it will be almost impossible for Russia to stick to this schedule of launching first crews to the Moon within a decade.

In 1989, the Soviet Union officially acknowledged the existence of its manned lunar program. The USSR and Russia have so far failed to land cosmonauts on the Moon. The last Russian unmanned mission to the Moon, Luna 24, landed on the lunar surface on Aug. 18, 1976.

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