Thursday, September 30, 2010

First Commercial Space Station

            Russia may do it again. It was the first to usher in the global space era with the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957 beating the Americans. A similar feat was repeated on April 12, 1961, when a Russian pilot, Yuri Gagarin, became the first person in the world to go to space. After that Russia chalked up several firsts to its credits like sending sending the first woman into space, and also going in for the first extra vehicular activity (spacewalk) to be conducted by cosmonaut Leonov. These are just some of the examples.

            Now, even as the US Congress has approved the extension of the International Space Station (ISS), Russia is working on what it calls the world's first commercial space station (CSS) tentatively slated for launch in 2015.

            The CSS will be a joint venture of a Russian firm, Orbital Technologies, RSC Energia, Roscosmos and the Russian Space Industry. The station which is expected to be some sort of a space hotel catering to various interests and disciplines, is expected to be located within 100 kms of the International Space Station in the low earth orbit. The project will compete with Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas which is exploring the possibility of launching a space hotel.

            The CSS will accommodate a seven-member crew who can undertake different types of research. Facilities are also expected to be provided for the media. Apart from this the CSS will permit new types of space-based product development, facilitate satellite servicing and maintenance, provide a staging outpost for human spaceflight missions beyond the low earth orbit and also act as a backup and an emerging safe haven for the ISS crew. It is expected to provide the much-needed boost to space tourism and private space flights. Neil Armstrong, however, does not have much faith in the privatisation of the space sector! One therefore wonders how he views the commercial space station project!

           There had been attempts to design and launch a manned commercial orbital space station by Russia. But, the project did not take off for a variety of reasons. Some of these include:

           * Lack of funding.

           * Insufficient understanding of market needs.

           * Lack of co-operative efforts with various space agencies. 
           Those behind the project have not disclosed how much it would cost a person to fly to the CSS. It will be a bomb!  It is clear however that it is a major exercise by Russia to cough up funds for its future space missions.

           The CSS, having a 15-year life span, is being so designed that it will accommodate various models of human and cargo spacecrafts  which are expected to remain in operation during the next decade. 


           As I write this, hectic preparations are now underway for the launch of China's second unmanned mission to the moon, Chang'e 2. According to the People's Daily and China Daily the flight is slated for take off around 4.30 p.m. (IST) today---October 1 which happens to be Chinese National Day.

           As my friend Pradeep Mohandas says one of the most significant aspects of this flight will lowering the spacecraft to an altitude of 15 kms above the moon' s surface as a test run for Chang'e 3 and soft landing on the moon.

           Let us wait and watch.

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