Bloomberg News

Russia May Join NASA-European Mars Mission After Probe Failure

November 24, 2011

Nov. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Russia may accept an invitation to join U.S.-European space missions to Mars after suffering the “heavy blow” of losing a $163 million space probe bound for the second-closest planet to Earth.

Russia is talking to NASA and the European Space Agency about participating in two Mars expeditions, in 2016 and 2018, according to Vladimir Popovkin, who heads Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos. It may send exploration equipment along with the missions, or assist with the rocket that launches the ships into space, he said yesterday in an interview in Moscow.

“Missions to distant planets will become more and more international,” Popovkin said. “We’ll see what degree of participation we’re offered. We prefer the first option.”

Europe’s debt crisis is weighing on global growth, cutting funding for space projects in the U.S. and giving Russia “a window of opportunity” to join international missions, according to Yuri Karash, a member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics.

As well as this month’s malfunction to the Mars-bound Phobos-Grunt probe, Russia lost its most powerful telecommunications satellite and a cargo-supply ship destined for the International Space Station in August.

Mars Mission

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the ESA are working on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission to be launched in 2016 for arrival at Mars nine months later. The mission aims to demonstrate entry, descent and landing technologies for future trips to the planet.

Russia and Europe may also launch an unmanned expedition to Jupiter by 2020, Popovkin said. Russia continued talks on cooperation with the ESA after the Phobos probe, built by Moscow-based NPO Lavochkin, got stuck in low-Earth orbit following its Nov. 9 launch, he added.

Russia will welcome help from NASA and the ESA to bring Phobos into a higher orbit, Popovkin said, adding that a window of opportunity to send the craft to its destination ended Nov. 19 and will re-open in about two years.

Russia may also partner China on manned space exploration in five to seven years, Popovkin said. For now, it’s working to create a craft for a crew of six people that will cost more than 10 billion rubles ($321 million) to develop and should be ready by 2020.

Investment Boost

The new vessel may benefit from increased investment in space exploration. Russia may spend 2 trillion rubles on its program between 2016 and 2025 as it eyes a manned mission to the moon, Popovkin said. Spending in 2012 should rise by 50 percent to 150 billion rubles an may double by 2015.

Unlike 50 years ago, when beating the U.S. into space marked a geopolitical victory in the Cold War, Russia is focusing on the commercial, technological and scientific aspects of space travel. President Dmitry Medvedev has named aerospace among five industries the government plans to nurture to help diversify the economy of the world’s largest energy supplier away from resource extraction.

Over the next decade, Russia will focus on the moon, with a manned mission planned for 2020-2025, Popovkin said. A manned Mars expedition may be possible after 2030, he added.

“The only way for Russia to develop state-of-the-art space technologies and keep its competitiveness in space is to focus on deep-space exploration,” said Karash, from the Academy of Cosmonautics.

Rocket Failure

The commercial space market was $267 billion in 2010, according to Popovkin, who said Russia may increase its share to as much as 20 percent by 2015 from 3 percent now.

“This will be telecommunications satellites, remote sensing, cartography and surveying services,” he said.

Russia is seeking to diversify its commercial space activities, which mainly involve transporting satellites and equipment for others. It controls 40 percent of the market for space launches, Popovkin said. By year-end he estimates Glonass, a rival to the U.S. Global Positioning System, will be fully operational, with 24 satellites.

Popovkin was appointed this year by President Dmitry Medvedev, who fired his predecessor after a Proton-M rocket failed to deliver three navigation satellites into orbit for Glonass.

--Editors: Andrew Langley, Balazs Penz

To contact the reporter on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net


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