Moscow seeks allies for its orbital complex project as it marks the 25th anniversary of the International Space Station

Russia seeks partners for its orbital complex at Dubai aerospace show

PHOTO/Kremlin - President Vladimir Putin gave the go-ahead for the architecture of a new Russian space station in the middle of the last decade, starting with the development of new launchers and manned capsules

The Dubai International Aerospace Exhibition has been the stage chosen by Vladimir Putin to unveil his future inhabited orbital complex and make it clear that it is open to the participation of third countries.

Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, and its director general, Yuri Borisov, are seeking the participation in the initiative of Arab, African and Asian nations, especially Turkey and the self-styled BRICS: Brazil, China, India and South Africa. And, of course, some of the six new members that will join the club from 1 January 2024: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Union of Arab Emirates.

The new complex has been named the Russian Orbital Complex or ROS - an acronym for the Russian Rossiyskaya Orbitalnaya Stantsya - and is the major project that Roscosmos wants to deploy in space by the end of this decade. Specifically, it will take place shortly before the International Space Station (ISS), a programme it shares with the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe, is decommissioned at the end of the decade.

PHOTO/Dubai Airshow - The Dubai aerospace show was the occasion chosen by Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, to showcase ROS and hold meetings with heads of delegations from countries interested in participating in the project

Washington envisages the cessation of activities and the consequent disappearance of the ISS around 2030 and has opted to favour private space stations for commercial use. To do something similar in its sphere of influence, and to ensure that ROS offers continuity to the presence of its cosmonauts in space. But this is not proving easy.

With the war in Ukraine dragging on for more than 30 months and much of the Kremlin's investment effort focused on its defence industry, the construction of a wholly Russian-owned orbital complex has become a Herculean undertaking. This is why President Putin is looking for cooperation and financial contributions from third countries.

PHOTO/Energy-Roscosmos - With the Ukraine war on hold, President Putin is seeking the cooperation and financial contribution of third countries to move forward with the construction of ROS and its costly operation in orbit

A space station designed for long life

To attract the attention of all those nations that want to have a say in outer space, Russia has exhibited a scale model of ROS in its national pavilion at the Dubai show from 13 to 18 November. Modular in design and much smaller than the ISS, its construction in low Earth orbit also requires a whole new and costly architecture. 

Responsibility for the new space station lies with the state-owned industrial corporation Energia, whose director is also Russia's chief designer of manned space complexes, former astronaut Vladimir Solovyov. The project's realisation is entrusted to general engineer Vladimir Kozhevnikov, who wants to put the first of the four ROS modules into orbit "by the end of 2027".

The Russian space industry has been developing the Angara family of launchers for years. They will ascend on the heavy Angara A5 rocket, the preliminary design of which has already passed technical reviews. It will fly into space from the new Siberian Vostochny Cosmodrome, where the launch towers and essential ground facilities are being erected.

PHOTO/Roscosmos - The general designer of Russia's manned space complexes and head of the major company Energia, former astronaut Vladimir Solovyov, pictured, is the driving force behind the ROS project

The cosmonauts will make their round trips in the new two-person Orel crew capsules, which will replace the veteran Soyuz capsules. But unlike the ISS, the new space station "will not be permanently inhabited," the Roscosmos chief stresses. Alexander Bloshenko, Roscosmos' director of science and advanced programmes, said that Orel's first flight "will be delayed to 2029", which reflects the difficulties facing Russia's space industry. 

The head of Roscosmos' manned space programmes, Sergei Krikaliov, also a former astronaut, stresses that ROS will take advantage of "the best of what we did on Mir and the best of what exists on the ISS". As the orbital complex is modular and can be reconfigured, Krikalyov predicts that the lifetime of ROS will be "practically unlimited". However, Solovyov qualifies that it will be in the order of "50 years".

PHOTO/TsENKI-Roscosmos - The Angara A5 heavy launcher will be responsible for placing the first ROS modules in space and for carrying the larger and heavier structures

ISS completes a quarter of a century in orbit

The news about ROS comes a quarter of a century after the ISS was first built in space, under President Boris Yeltsin, in the midst of the economic and political turmoil following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian Zarya module was launched into orbit on 20 November 1998 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Proton launcher. 

A few days later, on 7 December, the small American Unity module was attached to it, which was carried by the Space Shuttle Endeavour mission STS-88. In the White House was Bill Clinton, who was helping Russia finance its part of the project. The assembly of the largest structure ever created by humans less than 400 kilometres from Earth began. 

PHOTO/Energy-Roscosmos - A replacement for the veteran Soyuz and also capable of carrying two people, the new manned capsule Orel, pictured here, will carry cosmonauts on their trips to and from ROS

The project is still underway with the participation of 15 countries: the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and the European countries Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, France, Switzerland and Sweden through the European Space Agency (ESA). Its construction and operation to date has required 275 launches into space.

The ISS has carried 273 men and women from 21 nations, mostly Americans (165) and Russians (59). Also Japanese (11), Canadians (9), Italians (5), French and Germans (4 each), as well as two nationals from Saudi Arabia and two from the Emirates.

PHOTO/NASA - A total of 273 men and women from 21 nations have inhabited the ISS. Most of them Americans (165) and Russians (59) and one Spaniard, Pedro Duque, who was Spain's Minister of Science and Innovation

Other countries have sent one of their nationals. These include Spain (Pedro Duque), Belgium, Brazil, Korea, Denmark, Israel, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Currently on board the ISS is the 70th expedition, consisting of three Russians, two Americans, one Japanese and one Dane, who are conducting scientific research and experiments.

The ISS is made up of two distinct parts. The larger part is led by the United States and consists of the Destiny laboratory, the European Columbus module, the multi-purpose Leonardo module, the Japanese Kibo module, the Quest airlock, the Cupola observatory, the small Unity, Harmony and Tranquility modules - nodes - and the inflatable BEAM module. On the Russian side are the Zarya - providing electrical power, propulsion and guidance - and Zvezda - services and life support - modules, the Nauka laboratory, the smaller Poisk and Rassvet research modules and the Prichal node.