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Space Technology

Russia To Build an Orbital Construction Plant 182

jamax writes "Russia plans to build an orbital plant for the production of spacecraft (link to sketchy Google translation of the Russian original) that are too big to build planetside, or are just too bulky to fire into orbit once built. Presumably these are the ships we would fly to the Moon and Mars. Plans seem to be rather sparse at the moment, with the tentative construction date set for 2020, after the ISS is scheduled for decommissioning."
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Russia To Build an Orbital Construction Plant

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  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday April 13, 2008 @07:32PM (#23057458) Homepage Journal
    I hope that the Russians are *not* looking at flying to the Moon or Mars. The NEAs make much more interesting destinations where their expertise in micro-gravity environments can be best put to use.

    • by dlanod ( 979538 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @07:38PM (#23057528)
      There's no mention of the Moon or Mars in the translated article, so that is purely speculation in the summary. It's very much pie in the sky (pun intended) at the moment, with reporting just saying "it was proposed" and "The government's Security Council supported the idea". Nothing about funding or plans at this point in time.
    • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:39PM (#23057890) Journal
      For the last decade, Russia has announced LOADS of plans for space but does not want to pay for them (even though they are very cash positive). The only way this will happen is if America or EU backs it. As to not flying to the moon ot mars, that is absolutely their goal.
      • by Cassius Corodes ( 1084513 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:51PM (#23057976)
        With the increase in state funds due to the rising resource prices, the russians have a bit of cash to spare, and with putin being keen to show his countrymen that they are a superpower again it doesn't seem outrageous that they might try something in space - which has always had major propaganda value. The budget for the Russian Federal Space Agency has been increasing every year (but is still a fraction of nasa).
      • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:52PM (#23057994) Homepage Journal
        The US, Europe and Russia have all proposed the most fantastic things, promising them for the next few years and then postponing or canceling them for budget reasons.

        This project, like any fantastic one proposed in the past, has very little chance of, pun intended, ever flying.
      • by apankrat ( 314147 ) on Monday April 14, 2008 @12:51AM (#23059610) Homepage
        .. "a citation needed", especially for the "does not want to pay for them" part.
        • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday April 14, 2008 @04:31AM (#23060652) Journal
          How many plans has russia announced over the last decade and how many have been carried through? How is their new small shuttle progressing? How is their new heavy launcher work progressing? How is even their additions to the ISS progressing (ones that America paid for)? It is real simple. If you announce a number of plans, not just ideas, and then do not fund, then obviously "you do not want to pay for them".
          • by encoderer ( 1060616 ) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:29AM (#23062350)
            Not to mention, of course: When was the last time the Buran lifted-off? Hell, when was the FIRST time the Buran lifted-off? Sure, that's going back a few years, but this has been an endemic problem for an awful long time in the Ruskie space agency.

            I mean, as an engineer I understand the 'if it works...' thinking, but the only thing the agency is producing of any utility is more Soyuez crafts.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Well, even if we accept the premise that Roscosmos lacks funding (dubious), the idea that they'd co-operate with ESA/NASA on a project of this scale, in this political climate, is laughable. I mean, ESA and NASA aren't even working together anymore, at least compared to how they were five years ago, so why would Roscosmos join in? No, it just doesn't make any sense.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DavidShor ( 928926 )
          If they cooperated with NASA during the heat of the cold war, I don't imagine it would be particularly toxic now.
    • DS9 (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      They should model it after DS9 for space tourists. I for one would look forward to playing Dabo at Quark's bar. I mean Russian's got to have a bar on that place.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by salec ( 791463 )

      The NEAs make much more interesting destinations

      True. There will be little industry enterprises in space, spaceships construction included, without abundance of materials from some place out of deep gravity well, unless we get to make a space elevator, of course. However, it is a chicken-and-egg type of problem: in order to go and get enough materials for new space industry, we need large cargo vessels to begin with. And, we'll need permanent orbital bases as well.

      Perhaps first (OK, next) generation of thes

  • This will be impressive if the project is successful. I admit that I'll be a bit disappointed that we didn't do it first, though.

    Of course, it's going to be a while off, either way. Maybe our space program will have a renaissance in the meantime.
    • At the very least, it might start up a new space race, which would be a much needed motivation to get the US to start seriously looking at space travel again.
    • by Protonk ( 599901 )
      remember, talk is cheap. It is easy to talk about a subject of national pride like this and hard to decide to fund it. I put this in the same camp as GW talking about going to Mars in 2004. Anyone remember that?
    • by earthforce_1 ( 454968 ) <earthforce_1@@@yahoo...com> on Sunday April 13, 2008 @09:15PM (#23058140) Journal
      Sadly the US probably won't - It looks like Obama will be the next president, and his is planning to gut NASA's manned space program:
      http://www.cjr.org/campaign_desk/obamas_nasa_plan_gets_little_p.php [cjr.org]

      It looks like the Russians or Chinese are our last best hope to find a way off this rock.
      • Sadly the US probably won't - It looks like Obama will be the next president, and his is planning to gut NASA's manned space program:
        http://www.cjr.org/campaign_desk/obamas_nasa_plan_gets_little_p.php [cjr.org]
        Yes, clearly, delaying Bush's ill-advised Moon-to-Mars program by 5 years is equal to "gutting NASAs funding".

        Try to be a little less melodramatic, will you?
  • One small step... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dlanod ( 979538 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @07:36PM (#23057504)
    This would be a great step forward for space exploration, and hopefully it will kick start the rest of the world into launching their own if/when this proves to be a success. Something this big really needs governments to support it, it is too big for the nascent private space industry at the moment.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by magarity ( 164372 )
      Something this big really needs governments to support it
      The tricky bit is that said government must be able to afford it. Russia is not currently on that list.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by juhan pruun ( 939183 )
        Russia is on that list. No foreign debt, space capable infrastructure and ... look at the commodity prices.
      • ...I should have added, "but if the Chinese announce this kind of plan, watch out."
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DavidShor ( 928926 )
          Really? I'm more worried about China's long term growth prospects then Russia's. Russia is an industrialized first world country. They are economically dependent on high oil prices, but I don't think oil prices will drop below $70 a barrel in the next 20 years.

          China on the other hand, is an ethnic powderkeg(Tibet is just the tip of the iceberg) only kept together by guns and economic growth. From an economic standpoint, they have to deal with long-term environmental damage on a never before seen scale, a

  • makes sense (Score:5, Funny)

    by MassiveForces ( 991813 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @07:36PM (#23057506)
    they don't call it "The Federation" for nothing in Star Trek
  • It sounds like Captain Pirk has definitely arrived in our time...
  • by EEPROMS ( 889169 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @07:48PM (#23057584)
    Building anything in space is horrendously complex and expensive. The USA will be broke for the next few years so I cant see anything coming from that direction other than some toy like commercial projects (Virgin) that will die once the handful of billionaires who can afford it have taken a ride. Even though Russia is rolling in cash right now I don't think they will have enough money and expertise to pull this off in the long run. Really this needs to be a global affair with its own "standards body" so everyone can take part and a really nasty bit of work in charge to bang peoples heads together when they start arguing over bolt sizes or the colour of toilet seat lid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FleaPlus ( 6935 )
      Building anything in space is horrendously complex and expensive.

      I think Bigelow Aerospace would disagree. They already have prototype space station modules in orbit, and in the next few years they'll be launching up more of them and linking them together into larger stations. Robert Bigelow seems to think he can make a profit on it, and is betting a few hundred million of his own dollars on it.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigelow_Aerospace [wikipedia.org]
    • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:53PM (#23058002)

      other than some toy like commercial projects (Virgin) that will die once the handful of billionaires who can afford it have taken a ride.

      That completely explains why successful businessmen are staking their money and reputation on a "handful of billionaires". Too bad they haven't figured this out yet.

      Even though Russia is rolling in cash right now I don't think they will have enough money and expertise to pull this off in the long run. Really this needs to be a global affair with its own "standards body" so everyone can take part and a really nasty bit of work in charge to bang peoples heads together when they start arguing over bolt sizes or the colour of toilet seat lid.

      Russia does have the experience. Money always is a problem with them so you might be right there. I don't understand the desire for a "standards body". Everyone doesn't need to take part. Everyone doesn't need to get in on toilet seat design. Everyone doesn't need "a nasty bit of work" in charge.

      Sorry, but I'm annoyed by the airchair astronauts who know better than anyone else what's to happen in space. You seem to fit that mold quite well with your groundless pronouncements. Maybe it'll turn out that that building things in space are indeed "horrendously complex and expensive", that commercial projects will flop, and that we need some sort of global effort to do this sort of thing in space. But none of this has been demonstrated.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Russia has more than enough experience to run a station.... WTF. More parts of ISS are built by them and they log way more manned hours than the US team does. They're much better at extreme repairs under dire conditions than US astronauts also.

      Their process is a bit backwards, they have cheap, stable, easy to build large rockets. The only problem is that they are no where near as efficient as US rockets... they can lift Heavy... cheap... exactly what space building requires. Besides if they need robotics
      • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
        space robots are super cheap. they don't have to be strong, a tiny gyro can unstuck one from almost any postion it can get itself into, and their onboard computers don't really need to be that fast since without gravity to deal with in navigation you can use more naive pathing algorithms since you can do things like jump a 40 foot gap or climb a wall.

        the hard part is making sure the circuits can handle the extra radiation, and the Russians already can do that.
  • Vaporware (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Protonk ( 599901 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @07:50PM (#23057594) Homepage
    Plain and simple. there is a long list of russian projects announced in boom times (like 1995 and now) but abandoned when the rubber met the road.

    This is not to say that the Russians aren't advancing the state of the art in space--they are. They are also excellent builders of launch vehicles and spacecraft. BUT. That doesn't mean that proclamations like this are to be accepted without a huge dose of skepticism.

    I would be much more willing to believe that Russians would fund a new launch site, a SSTO or similar projects. This smacks of unreality.
    • by tftp ( 111690 )
      I would be much more willing to believe that Russians would fund a new launch site, a SSTO or similar projects.

      Even the article in question mentions that a new space launch site ("Vostochny", or Eastern) opens in 2015 - it's only 7 years from now, so I'd guess the construction has been funded already. The surveying and design phase will take until 2010, and then the workers come in. The site has been already decided on.

      With a SSTO there is a little problem, though - nobody on this planet has a clue how

      • by Protonk ( 599901 )

        With a SSTO there is a little problem, though - nobody on this planet has a clue how to do it, even in theory. Funding has little to do with this, compared to physics. My personal bet is that we won't see SSTO until we get antigravity. Chemical rockets are just as ridiculous as hot air balloons in the age of supersonic jets.

        Or Orion. :)
  • The biggest question currently facing /. readers -- how will this play out against the NCC-1701 under construction teaser trailer (http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/startrek/ [apple.com])?
    • it looks like they are assembling it on the ground.

      that's just F'ed up
      • The original Enterprise was always supposedly built in San Francisco. Why they picked that city, I don't know.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Protonk ( 599901 )
          Because gene Roddenberry was a communist?

          Or more likely, because he felt that it was a city the represented a look ahead and was cosmopolitan enough to get a feel for what Roddenberry felt the future should look like?

  • by usul294 ( 1163169 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:02PM (#23057674)
    As I recall there was talk 15-20 years ago of doing this in the US at a cost of $400-500 billion. Seems to be a tad too expensive for Russia, in fact for anyone. Its much cheaper to send up everything you need for one mission. The biggest cost is putting things into Earth orbit, so unless they have a plan to get raw materials to the assembly station without launching them off Earth first, it seems like they just want to build a giant space station for the hell of it when there is a cheaper way of doing things. I doubt this ever gets past the planning stage.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *
      The Russian space program typically does things for millions that would cost the US billions.. that's the way they do business.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Protonk ( 599901 )
        The cost savings in working with the russians is probably about 30-60%, not 99.9%.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DerekLyons ( 302214 )

        The Russian space program typically does things for millions that would cost the US billions..

        No, the Russians typically do a fraction of what the US does and thus unsurprisingly pays a fraction of what the US does. Space fanboys don't realize this because they swallow propaganda rather than actually study the facts.

        For example - I bet you don't realize that the US paid for almost a third of MIR, boosted almost 40% of it's final weight into orbit, carried almost 25% of the supplies delivered over

  • DS (Score:5, Funny)

    by gadzook33 ( 740455 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:02PM (#23057676)
    Well you can't very well build a giant steel planet with an energy weapon capable of destroying other planets in a warehouse.
  • ...but I can't afford it.

    I didn't think the Russian economy had quite reached the point where orbital contruction factories were a consideration.

    Would love to see it happen, but not holding my breath.
  • How about (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sentientbrendan ( 316150 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:13PM (#23057728)
    they plan to send a manned mission to Jupiter in 2100? How about a mission to alpha centauri while their at it?

    Notice how people come up with fantastic plans to do space stuff in the year 2020? Bush did a similar thing with his plan to go back to the moon.

    Whatever date it is, it's a date that the current people in office, will no longer be in office, or if they are, no one will remember what the plans are.

    This is just an attempt by politicians to make themselves look "visionary" while actually doing nothing. If, 70 years from now when someone actually gets around to going to mars, no one is going to remember what kind of plans a bunch of jokers with no intention of providing funding pulled out of the ass in 2008.
  • 1) I wouldn't put too much faith into what this website (ie. lenta.ru) posts (they are known to post rumors as actual news) 2) The average age of members of the Russian Academy of Sciences is over 70 (which is a miracle in itself since the life expectancy for males is 59). People who could've been developing space projects like this have been choosing to work for private companies for the last 20 years or so. Space programs have always been monopolized by the government and these jobs don't pay well enough
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:19PM (#23057778)

    One reason that the US doesn't have a plan for an orbital assembly infrastructure is that NASA is working towards a "heavy lift vehicle", the Ares V which will lift somewhere in the order of 130 tons to low Earth orbit. The things NASA has in mind take only 1-3 launches of the Ares V to put up. So the only assembly one would need under those circumstances is docking.

    Now my opinion on the matter is that Russia has a superior approach. NASA's Ares V is planned to launch around 2-4 times a year, but it has high fixed costs, and as far as I know, there are no plans to increase the launch rate of the Ares V significantly. That means there are unexploited economies of scale. An orbital assembly station is a cleverer approach in that it means one can use a smaller rocket to launch the material. They can either use existing rockets like Proton or Soyuz or future designs like Angora (which is intended to launch up to 25 tons into orbit, assuming they build it). That means the Russians can substitute frequent launches of a smaller vehicle to build things of comparable size (OTOH, I've been unable to determine how much mass or volume this station would be able to manage at once). My take is that the Russian approach, all else being equal including labor and ground-based infrastructure costs, will result in a lower cost per kilogram of payload. That is the primary metric for the cost of a launch vehicle.

    There are tradeoffs between the two approaches. The Ares V has high operation costs and high costs per launch. The Russian approach will result (IMHO) in lower launch costs, but then one must add in assembly costs and R&D costs to make space equipment that can be assembled in space. I hope the Russians are serious about this assembly station and make it happen. If it works, it'll open up space in a way that larger launch vehicles cannot.

    • by rbanffy ( 584143 )
      I am not sure if your reasoning makes sense.

      When you launch an Ares V, you are, of course, burning a lot of money, but you are also launching about 5 times more cargo than an Angora launch. All things being equal, the bigger launch wastes less material and equipment.

      And there is nothing that prevents using an Ares I or any other smaller lifter for lighter cargo.

      Still, there is nothing to prevent usage of the combined capabilities of all the vehicles and platforms available. If someone can build an in-orbit
      • by Protonk ( 599901 )
        All things aren't equal. he is arguing that there is a strong negative cost curve for spacecraft launches, that the FIRST launch costs bunches, but subsequent launches cost less than the one before it.

        If that is true, then using more launches of smaller vehicles saves more money than doing one on a large vehicle (also spreads out risk).

        We aren't saying that it IS true, necessarily. I think that the spacecraft industry does face a declining cost curve, but not THAT steep (not like chipmaking or electricity
        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          (also spreads out risk)

          One obvious way is that if the Ares V is built on schedule, it'll be the sole vehicle in its class. That means it is a single point of failure. If Angora runs into a problem. the Russians have two existing vehicles that can deliver slightly less performance (I'm ignoring the Proton M which might be discontinued to make way for Angora), Delta IV heavy and Ariane V. That means less delay in projects that depend on Angora. OTOH, the assembly station is also a single point of failure and one which is much more

      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        When you launch an Ares V, you are, of course, burning a lot of money, but you are also launching about 5 times more cargo than an Angora launch. All things being equal, the bigger launch wastes less material and equipment.

        There are various things to remember here. First, let's assume that Ares V is launched for around 30 years and generates 100 launches over it's lifetime. I see speculation that it's fixed costs per year are on the order of $2 billion a year and incremental cost per rocket is $250 million. That may be overstated though when it comes to cost and failing to meet deadlines, NASA routinely exceeds expectations. There's also several billion in R&D costs including Ares I work (since the justification for the

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tftp ( 111690 )
      future designs like Angora

      Angora [wikipedia.org] is a breed of cat. Angara [wikipedia.org] is a river. The latter is the name for the rocket [wikipedia.org] :-) Though I like cats more than rivers.

  • by Salsaman ( 141471 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:39PM (#23057892) Homepage
    Perhaps they will buy the decomissioned ISS, fix it up a bit, and just use that as a starting point.
    • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *
      Heh, you know the Russians will be operating the ISS 20 years after the Americans have left.

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        Not what I hear. The operation of the station is heavily dependent on both the US and the Russians. The US has provided a lot of the critical components [nasaspaceflight.com] of the system. For example, a considerable portion of the hardware comes from NASA, the communication system comes from the US, NASA has a "small army" on the ground maintaining the ISS. Further, the US may remain responsible for the station's deorbit even if they hand off operations to another.
  • I doubt any of this will be possible without Canadian engineering. McDonald, Detweiller and associates created the Canadarm and Dexter, and Russia will probably require technology like this to make this possible. Canada is becoming a great hand in the space industry. McDonald, Detweiller and associates are really putting Canada in the news around the world. It's an excellent thing that they weren't sold.
  • The Reds are going to beat us to Jupiter!
  • We have talked about building power plants in space. If it is cheaper to bring up the raw material and process it, then I suspect that we MIGHT do it. Of course, that remains to be seen.
    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      I gather from the clues in the story, that the Russians are talking about orbital assembly not manufacture. The distinction is that the pieces are made on Earth and assembled by robot or human in space. Probably most of the pieces will be designed so that it doesn't take a lot of labor to put them together. We are a long way from manufacture in space.

      Currently, the only source for material would be Earth's surface. It doesn't make sense IMHO to lift a factory to orbit as well as the raw materials, when on

      • I could see Musk, Bigelow, and either Carmack or Bezos getting together just to get a small NEA or put us on the moon and then send material back to earth orbit. If some sort of assembly is started in orbit, than I could see these guys starting a small manufacturing plant that produces solar cells for space.

        Of course, the question is, can it make money? At first glance I want to say not a chance. But I think that combine a carbon tax AND the military (US and NATO) needing quick easily movable power, coul
  • After all, regulations specify thrusters only while in space dock!
    • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
      well i sure as hell hope they don't bring up their impeller drives in the dock, that would kill everyone.
  • "...and the missiles are coming out of the factories like sausages!"

    Russians are good at hyperbole and Americans are good at falling for it.
  • This article's translation seemed relatively good compared to what I've seen, and I was starting to think they've finally been able to improve the translation process by at least ensuring complete sentences. Then I clicked on the linked story about the Black hole against collider []:

    Eight babies mastered statistics on the neutron estrelles found mountains, Russian scientists fired newspaper for scientists, black holes and opened a few of its secrets, and probably pozhalev that, once again gathered to dest

  • The Russians couldn't even afford to foot their end of the bill for their ISS commitments. I don't think that diverting funds will pay for their grandiose dreams.
  • According to Interfax, Russia shall build an orbital factory for construction of space vessels for flights to Moon and Mars. Such announcement was made by Anatoly Perminov, head of Ruscosmos.

    According to Perminov, Roscosmos suggested to create a manned assembling complex on near-earth orbit. 11 April it was approved on security counsel by government. Complex can be used to assembly space crafts that are too heavy to to be assembled on Earth.

    These plans can only start after end of use of ISS in 2020. A

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