Other’s victories

The US and China in 2018 will bury Roskosmos

The coming year promises to become rich in space events. During this period, the most powerful rocket of the planet is likely to be launched, and the newest American manned spacecraft will go to the ISS for the first time. Several missions are devoted to the distant cosmos. Impressive are the plans of Roskosmos. “Lenta.ru” tells about the main events that should be expected this year.

Far missions

In 2018, at least two lunar missions are planned. The first (in March) is the Indian Chandrayaan-2, which includes an orbiter, a descent module and a rover. In June, it is planned to launch the Chinese program Chang’e 4, in November or December from the same-named orbital module detach the descent vehicle and rover.

At the end of this year, the launch of the Chang’e 5 mission, within which China plans to deliver samples of lunar soil, is not excluded. Due to problems with the heavy missile Long March 5 (it did not bring Shijian-18 satellite into its calculated orbit during its second launch), the program can be transferred to the 2019th.

Also before the end of March, the finalists of Google Lunar X Prize can go to the Moon. The conditions of the contest involve descending to the surface of the Earth satellite Rover, which would make a short trip and conveyed to the planet a small video of his journey. It’s hard to believe in the success of such missions, but exceptions also happen.

In May, NASA will send to Mars the mission of InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) in order to thoroughly study the geological structure of the Red Planet. The descent vehicle with the drill will be on the surface of the celestial body in November.

The PSP (Parker Solar Probe), which must fly within the solar corona, NASA plans to launch in July or August.

The launch of BepiColombo, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is scheduled for October. The flight module, after several flights past the Earth, Venus and Mercury by 2025, finally brings to the nearest planet to the Sun a pair of orbital vehicles.

Apparatus of the mission BepiColombo near Mercury (in the artist’s view)

In 2018, two similar missions will achieve their goals. In June, the Japanese Hayabusa-2 unit should fly up to the asteroid Ryugu, and in December – to take soil samples for subsequent sending to Earth. NASA Mission OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer) in August reaches the asteroid Benn, the minimum distance from it (about five kilometers), the station must exit in October, and then begin site selection for sampling with a view to their subsequent sending to the ground. It is believed that in the future, it is possible to extract minerals on asteroids.

Most space missions will continue their work this year. For example, the station New Horizons, located in the Kuiper belt, in June will exit the regime of hibernation, and in August will begin an adjustment to the object 2014 MU69, which will reach the end of 2018 or early 2019.

Perhaps only one station, Jupiterian Juno (Jupiter Polar Orbiter), will die in 2018. The mission’s budget is approved until mid-summer, after which the program can be extended for another six months. The electronics of the station, being under severe radiation conditions in the orbit of Jupiter, quickly degrades, at some point the mission will become useless, and the station will drown in the atmosphere of the gas giant.

Separately, it should be noted that not earlier than March, the launch of the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) orbiting observatory, intended for searching for exoplanets, is expected.

Powerful rockets

For January, the first launch of a super-heavy (with a carrying capacity of more than 50 tons) Falcon Heavy rockets from SpaceX is planned. The planet’s most powerful rocket has already been installed on the LC-39A site of the John F. Kennedy Space Center (Florida), with which the first heavy-duty Saturn 5 rocket with the Apollo was launched on November 9,

Structurally, the first stage of the Falcon Heavy consists of a central unit and a pair of lateral accelerators, which are the upgraded first stages of the medium-sized Falcon 9 missile. The medium can carry 63.8 tons of cargo to a low reference orbit.

“The maximum traction when lifting is 5.1 million pounds, or 2300 metric tons. The first mission will work at 92 percent, “said SpaceX CEO Ilon Mask.

The company expects to keep the first stage of the Falcon Heavy, two lateral rocket accelerators are planned to be planted on the ground platform, and the central unit – to the sea.

On Falcon Heavy as a payload to Mars, the head of SpaceX plans to send a personal car Tesla Roadster. The businessman is skeptical that the first start of the superheavy carrier will be successful, which is connected with the possible difficulties in synchronizing the work of 27 engines.

Previously, Falcon Heavy was planned to be launched before the end of 2017. If the January launch is successful, then in 2018 SpaceX may, on a heavyweight carrier, take a risk, but not earlier than April, to launch the first commercial load into space – Arab telecommunication satellite Arabsat-6A and a group of small spacecraft, and later, which is very unlikely, moon version of the manned spacecraft Dragon 2.

Also at the end of the first quarter of 2018, SpaceX will launch Falcon 9 Block 5, the final version of the Falcon 9, whose engine thrust will be increased by 8 percent compared to the thrust of the Block 4 units. The first stage of the final version of the carrier involves 10 or more launches.

People in orbit

In 2018, the test flights of manned spacecraft Dragon 2 (created by SpaceX) and Starliner (created by Boeing), which in the future will destroy the monopoly of Roskosmos for the delivery of people to the ISS, should take place.

The first flight of Dragon 2 without astronauts on board to the ISS is scheduled for April, with astronauts – in August. Without people Starliner will go to near-earth orbit in August, with the crew – in November. Although earlier tests of American manned spacecraft have been repeatedly postponed, there is no doubt that this year Dragon 2 and Starliner, at least without a crew, will still reach the ISS.

In the process of assembling the ship Starliner

In 2018, five expeditions will go to the ISS, 18 people will attend the station, of which 7 will be represented by Roskosmos, 8 by NASA, one astronaut will have to the European and Canadian space agencies, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Also this year China plans to put into orbit the first module of its national space station. The construction of a space laboratory, which will consist of at least three units, should be completed by 2022.

Rubber science

In 2018, Roscosmos planned the implementation of projects that were postponed several years in a row. These are the launches of the Spectrum-RG observatory and the Nauka module, as well as the second launch of the heavy Angara.

The Orbit astrophysical observatory “Spectrum-RG” was planned to be launched in 2014. Now, the expected start date for the mission is October 2018, the launch vehicle is the Proton-M rocket with the DM-3 upper stage. This observatory is considered an international project, managed mainly by the Russian and German sides. The main instruments of Spectrum-RG are the German X-ray telescope eROSITA and the Russian gamma telescope ART-XC.

“Science”, which should be part of the Russian segment of the ISS, is planned to be launched on the Proton-M rocket until December 20. The block, which has been under construction since 1995 by the Khrunichev Center, was supposed to be withdrawn in 2007. In fact, the module is a backup of the “Dawn”, the first functional-cargo block of the ISS, built by the same Khrunichev Center using NASA means.

Docked to the ISS block “Science” (computer model)

On “Science” in “Roskosmos” have high expectations. If in 2024 the ISS program closes, the module should become the basis of the national Russian station. The problem is that in the “Science” systems there are faults, they can not be eliminated simply by replacing the elements that modern Russian industry does not already produce, it is impossible.

For example, in 2017 it became known that pollution in the fuel tanks of “Science” (metal powder). The Khrunichev Center decided to re-compile the module elements. It is noteworthy that similar pollution was found in 2013. Anonymous sources in the industry believe that it is not necessary to launch Science at all, since all of its rubber elements are obsolete and do not meet safety requirements.

The numerous promises of Roskosmos to bring the seemingly ready module into orbit poured into the principled need of the state corporation to maintain its own reputation, which competes with the fear of losing the obsolete bloc, because of which the launch is delayed in every possible way. It is known that the prelaunch preparation of the “Science” at Baikonur will take at least seven months, in connection with which the module should be delivered to the cosmodrome no later than April. Otherwise, Science will not be launched in 2018.

Finally, at the very end of 2018, the second launch of the heavy Angara-A5 missile is scheduled. Previously, carriers of this family, developed since 1995, were tested only two times: in July 2014 the light “Angara-1.2PP” was launched, and in December of the same year – the heavy “Angara-A5”. As in 2014, the launch of the Angara will take place from Plesetsk, and not East, where in early 2018 the launching table for the Angara will start – another potential long-term construction.

Just Business

In the coming year, two US companies planned the launch of tourist suborbital ships. At the end of the year Blue Origin Jeff Bezos plans to ship to New Shepard 4, the final version of the reusable suborbital system, a capsule with the crew. At the same time, the development of a reusable suborbital spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, has almost been completed, and the head of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, does not rule out that flights with the crew will take place in the coming year.

In addition, in 2018, testing will continue of various launch systems for small spacecraft, in particular, Electron ground-based light missiles of the American-New Zealand company Rocket Lab and Kuaizhou-1 of the Chinese CASIC (China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation), as well as the orbital carrier rocket LauncherOne company Virgin Orbit of the same Branson (launched from a Boeing 747-400 aircraft). In the coming year, Stratolaunch, designed to launch orbital rockets, which is being developed with the support of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, may fly for the first time.

Such missiles are especially advantageous for the launch of small devices, in particular, mobile satellites OneWeb. Although the company’s first launches, according to a contract signed in 2015 between Arianespace and OneWeb, will hold Russian Soyuz rockets (European Arianespace acts as the operator of launch services at the Kourou space center), in the future, OneWeb plans to take part in the Virgin Orbit. In this case, the venerable rocket “Soyuz” will have to compete with LauncherOne and similar carriers – the newest launch vehicles, which have no analogues and are not expected in Russia.