Manned lunar programs

June 20, 2016

The article is based on the report delivered on January 27, 2016 at XL Spaceflight Academic Conference dedicated to the memory of academician Sergei Korolev and other prominent national scientists — pioneers of space exploration (Korolev Conference — 2016).

Today interest to the Moon is awakened again, but why does that happen? No doubts, humans have always expressed interest to the Earth's natural satellite, but after the first exploration missions of space probes, after the first expeditions it became clear: on the Moon there's nothing expected by science fiction writers and dreamers. No scattered gems, no selenites. It began to look like an insipid world, unnecessary to mankind. But in late XX — early XXI centuries new research made with space probes revealed that, surprisingly, in this seemingly lifeless world there is water.

Карта распределения водорода в районе Южного полюса Луны

Hydrogen distribution in the region around the lunar south pole

By using neutron detectors, including those developed in Russia, traces of hydrogen atoms were discovered in the soil. Of course, scientists speculated that cometary ice may accumulate in craters near the lunar poles — in so-called cold traps, permanently hidden from the Sun, — but it was just a guess. New observations with probes allowed to confirm the presence of hydrogen in craters. The most amazing thing is that hydrogen was found not only in craters, but also in the regolith nearby — on the sunlit plains. It is yet unclear how and why hydrogen gets into the sunlit surface. However, hydrogen is actually present on the Moon, and possibly even lens of water ice are present there.

What does it mean? Water can be decomposed into hydrogen and oxygen, which in turn, can be used for refueling spacecraft and for life support systems of lunar bases. The Moon turned out to be not such a lifeless world as it seemed before.

Another thing, often remembered when talking about the exploration of the Moon, and always interesting to anyone, is Helium-3, a light isotope of Helium, which theoretically can be used in fusion reactors of the future. But this should treated very carefully, because no operating fusion reactors exist yet, especially for Helium-3. That is, Helium-3 may become useful, but only in 100 years.

Before talking about upcoming lunar programs, it's necessary to tell about the recent past. Constellation program of the United States, the most known one, was announced by George W. Bush at the beginning of the XXI century. It's a kind of reinterpretation of the Apollo program at the present stage, based on new technologies, including those from the Space Shuttle program. It was supposed to create a new spacecraft, named Orion, and two new launch vehicles — Ares I and Ares V. It was like Apollo missions, only bigger and better — four men on the Moon, long (up to a month) stay on the surface. Even today images of Constellation hardware can be seen as illustrations of lunar plans in various articles. However, this program was cancelled by Barack Obama in 2010. The main argument for the cancellation of the program is being "lacking in innovation", and merely repeating the fifty-year-old success at a new level.

Design of spacecraft for tourist flyby of the Moon

In Russia, almost simultaneously with the announcement of the Constellation program in the United States, long haul missions were also recalled. Those days the Kliper project was being actively developed — first as a lifting body, then with small wings. There were also ideas of using existing hardware (Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz and Proton launch vehicles, Block D upper stage) for lunar mission. The mission profile was complicated, with numerous launches (about 10). It was clear that with existing medium-lift and heavy-lift launch vehicles it is impossible to design a lunar mission without dockings. However, the work was under way, and even preliminary design of the lunar landing stage appeared.

Those days perhaps the most real was the idea to send space tourists on a lunar flyby mission. Two launches of Soyuz and Proton vehicles, delivery of a Soyuz spacecraft, upgraded for lunar missions, to orbit along with Block D upper stage, docking, trans-lunar injection using Block D, and flyby of the Moon. In terms of ballistics and mass the mission profile looked credible. One of the issues was reliability. So, before the first tourist flight unmanned test flights would be needed, thus dramatically increasing the ticket price.

About the same time in Russia appeared first serious discussions of Helium-3 mining on the Moon. It was a quite popular topic in the media. However, after the head of RSC Energia was changed, the lunar plans were forgotten.

Chinese Tiangong-3 orbital station under development

You can often hear the opinion that Chinese astronauts are about to land on the Moon. However, there are official plans of China for human spaceflight development, and these plans up to mid-2020s include the construction of a modular space station (similar to the Soviet Mir station). The launch of a rough copy of Salyut-6/Salyut-7 station with two docking ports and resupply capability is scheduled for 2016. In 2018, launch of the base module of a modular station, Chinese version of "Mir", is expected.

Until 2022 Chinese specialists will gradually assemble the station in orbit, and it is extremely unlikely that after the completion of the assembly they will immediately start implementing a manned lunar program. It is reasonable to assume that the station will be operated for at least five years. Thus, if China will start implementing "manned Moon", then not before the late 2020s or probably 2030s. That is not now.

However, China's achievements in the Moon exploration are significant, a notable example is Chang'e 3 — Chinese lunar rover. China is the world's third country to achieve a soft landing on the Moon after the USSR and USA. The official objective of Chang'e 5-T1 is a test of the reentry capsule for a sample return mission; however the capsule resembles a scaled-down copy of the capsule of Shenzhou manned spacecraft. In fact, Chinese specialists successfully tested the high-speed atmospheric reentry of the spacecraft capsule.

Another interesting fact: Chinese ground test facility for closed life support systems, where 98% degree of isolation (in mass) was achieved, is named the Moon Palace, suggesting the focus on the Moon.

China's plans for interplanetary stations are very ambitious and perhaps even more ambitious than American. For instance Chang'e 5, a sample return mission expected in 2017. Its method of return differs from the Soviet one, which had direct flight. Chang'e 5 will use docking in lunar orbit (Apollo profile), allowing to deliver more soil. Probably, an attempt will be made to deliver soil from polar regions, interesting due to possible presence of water ice. Chang'e 4 (2018) is the world's first landing on the far side of the Moon, even more so, with a lunar rover. One very complex mission to the Moon every year — it's a breathtaking pace! To establish communication with the lunar rover, Chinese scientists are going to place a relay spacecraft at L2 (Lagrangian point behind the Moon). It's quite a complex mission, though judging by earlier successes, the chances for it to be completed are high.

Takeoff from the lunar surface of Chang'e 5 with a soil sample

Approximate list of Chinese plans for interplanetary stations:

- tracking of near-Earth asteroids, approach and landing on one of them — 2017;

- Mars orbiter and lander with rover — 2018;

- space based Solar observatory — 2018;

- Venus orbiter — 2021;

- radio observations of the Sun from a polar orbit — 2024;

- sample return mission to Ceres — 2024;

- Jupiter orbiter and the study of Europa — 2025;

- panoramic observation of Solar storms — 2027;

- sample return mission to Mars — 2028.

The deadlines set for these missions are being revised already. No doubts that significant part of them will be delayed, but anyway the list is quite impressive!

As for the lunar plans of China, various photos and pictures appeared on the web, but they are more like museum exhibits to promote Chinese successes among youth. In reality, China has Long March 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle (the first flight is expected in 2016), which will launch 23 metric tons to orbit, being similar to Proton and Angara A5 launch vehicles of Russia. Using this vehicle China could implement a lunar flyby mission in parallel with the orbital station operation. But such a mission is nowhere announced officially, so it's nothing more than speculation.

A possible option for Chinese lunar base

As for super heavy-lift launch vehicle, China haven't show any pictures yet. Only speculations of Western analysts can be seen on the web about the Chinese super heavy vehicle. Judging by official plans, China is unlikely to start implementing its lunar program before 2030.

And what plans do the United States have today? Barack Obama announced the Flexible Path strategy. It is clear where should this path lead. The declared goal is Mars. Though intermediate steps remain unclear. What is clearly determined for today? It's that the United States will construct SLS (Space Launch System) heavy-lift launch vehicle, which actively employs Shuttle technologies. The first flight is scheduled for 2018. Then it is planned to gradually upgrade the payload capacity from 70 metric tons to 100, and then to 140, with the replacement of solid fuel rocket boosters with liquid-propellant ones. Such a launcher will allow the United States to achieve very ambitious goals. Government funded Orion spacecraft also remains in the plans.

According to the Flexible Path strategy published by NASA, the first step will be missions to Earth orbit, based on technologies already used in the ISS. Later — the Moon, but with no landing and no interest to the Moon itself, other than a technology testing ground. The ultimate goal of the program is Mars.

NASA plans a few interesting but controversial missions. Their usefulness for the flight to Mars, to put it mildly, is not obvious. The Americans are going to use an interplanetary probe to bring a boulder from an asteroid to a lunar orbit. Initial plan called for towing an entire asteroid, but it was abandoned. Later the rock will be visited by a manned spacecraft. Astronauts will get to the surface and chip some fragments off the rock. What is it for, and how this will help in getting to Mars? Such questions are often asked by experts — and NASA think about the complete revision of the program.

Yet economic considerations limit the expected launch rate to one super heavy-lift launch vehicle a year. The estimated cost for supporting the infrastructure makes the system operating costs too high when the launch rate is decreased. Now the search of payloads is onging, missions are being scheduled. The program is now being actively revised, justifying the name Flexible Path.

How manned mission to Mars is seen by NASA today? The plan published in December 2015 caused a storm of criticism. Head of Mars Society Robert Zubrin called it "all sizzle and no steak". It has extremely complicated profile, involving both tugs powered by chemical fuel, and electrically powered tugs, assembly in lunar orbit or even at Lagrangian points, mission of fitters followed by the main crew. It turns out that Phobos landing requires 8 launches of super heavy-lift launch vehicle, first Mars landing — 14, second one — 10. So, 32 launches of super heavy vehicle are needed to begin reqular flights to Mars. It's totally insane in terms of money and complexity. It's hard to understand why such a profile is proposed. Perhaps, systematic exploration is planned, and the task is to obtain infrastructure for further expansion into space. But now this profile looks like it was invented to delay the mission to Mars and never implement it.

There is no Moon as such in the Flexible Path strategy. The Moon is not specified there as a goal (even intermediate), though it is mentioned as a testing ground. One could say that the Americans are not going to the Moon, if not for one thing. The author was lucky to attend Soyuz TMA-16M launch event at the Baikonur cosmodrome. The launch was followed by a press conference, at which I asked the head of NASA Charles Bolden: "What are your plans for the Moon?" He answered: "The Americans have never abandoned the idea of returning to the Moon". Then Bolden told about the plans of the active involvement of private companies. And his words don't disagree with deeds — with the first launch of the SLS microsats will be sent to the Moon, including those made by private companies.

We should digress into telling what is private spaceflight in the United States. Everyone knows Elon Musk and discusses his achievements. However, he spent about $1 bln for creating his private spacecraft, including $100-200 of his own funds (according to different sources). Everything else is NASA funding. Not all the money are transferred yet, but he received about $2 bln, i.e. 10-20 times the amount he invested himself. The question is whether he can be considered a private or government funded entrepreneur.

NASA's annual expense of supporting the chosen private companies (not only SpaceX of Elon Musk) is $400 to $900 mln. The second figure is only 2-2.5 times less than the new Russian annual space budget (for the time of writing this article in early 2016, at the rate of 65-70 rubles/$). There is another company, Orbital ATK, which created both cargo spacecraft and launch vehicle, albeit with Russian NK-33 engines (this engine is derived from NK-15, which was used in the first stage of the Soviet N1 launch vehicle). There are many other companies which have no media attention, but these dozens of companies anyway take part in space activities of the United States. And not by creating, so to say, "rivets" for state-owned spacecraft, but providing full-fledged services of remote sensing of Earth, delivery of cargo into orbit. The market for private space companies in the United States is quite established.

What caused such a rapid growth? For instance, SpaceX company received more than $2 bln within Commercial Crew Program for the private spacecraft development. Winged design of Dream Chaser spacecraft participated in the same manned spacecraft development program, and its developers don't hide the fact that its aerodynamics was borrowed from the Soviet BOR-4 spacecraft (BOR is a Russian acronym for unmanned orbital rocketplane). Dream Chaser lost, but just in two years NASA provided support for this project within Commercial Resupply Services 2 program for delivery of cargo to the ISS. Sierra Nevada, the spacecraft developer, ultimately received funding.

Another example is Bigelow Aerospace company, which plans to create an expandable space hotel. The task is quite strange and ambitious. However, they have already tested some expandable modules, and NASA signed a contract with them, provided funds, and now, in the spring of 2016, a module by Bigelow Aerospace arrived at the ISS.

USA representatives do not openly announce anywhere, but the plan is to yield the Moon to private companies (with enormous funding by NASA for these companies). To task NASA with goals of the space frontier, latest achievements, and private companies — with the development of what has already been researched. This is quite an American approach — pioneers push the envelope, while businesses develop the territory after the pioneers.

The Moon is not considered any longer by the officials and the American society as Mt. Everest, where you need to climb for the first time in history. Today Mars is perceived as Everest.

Private companies in the United States get support from the initial stage to the last one. Small companies are supported with small grants. The second way is competitions. For example, the Lunar Lander Challenge competition. The first-place prize was $1 mln, and the second-place prize was $500,000. Many teams presented their vehicles, but only two teams met the challenge and have been awarded prizes.

A lander competing at the Lunar Lander Challenge

The same Bigelow Aerospace, which makes expandable modules, created a lunar base concept. Sure, it is still a fantasy. Sure, the company does not receive funding for this. Yet this proposal exists.

A plan of Golden Spike Company has been made public recently. Four heavy vehicle launches and a lunar mission. And manned Dragon V2 of Elon Musk was pictured very clearly there. The most amazing thing is that this mission can be fit into just two Falcon Heavy vehicles, the design of which is to be tested in 2016. It has expected payload of up to 53 metric tons — twice the payload of the Russian Proton launch vehicle.

Spacecraft of the project by Golden Spike Company

On July 13, 2015 a report named Economic Assessment and Systems Analysis of an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public-Private-Partnerships, prepared with NASA participation was published. The report shows that having initial funding of $10 bln two competing private companies can return humans to the Moon within 5-7 years. Sure, its not those private entrepreneurs building small rockets in a garage, but giant companies. For example, SpaceX company of Elon Musk has about 5,000 employees.

As for Russian plans, there was long 'Moon or Mars' discussion; however no goal could be defined. And in 2014, when they began to discuss the new Federal Space Program for 2016-2025, the Moon was ultimately chosen as a goal by the Russian Academy of Sciences, as proposed by the Space Research Institute. A strange plan was proposed: long period of development of the infrastructure, followed by the first flight to a lunar orbit somewhere in late 2020s, and the first manned landing only in 2030s. 60 years behind the first manned landing of American astronauts. What for? Not yet created new Russian PTK NP spacecraft (recently named Federation) has been repurposed for flights to the Moon. The manned lunar infrastructure is based on a super heavy-lift launch vehicle.

However, the economic downturn in Russia has led to severe cuts of the expected budget defined by not yet adopted Federal Space Program. Initially, it was expected to spend 3 trillion rubles over 10 years (~$83 bln, or about $8 bln annually at the exchange rate at the time of review). It is a very good funding — just 2–2.5 times less than for NASA. In April 2015 Igor Komarov, the new Roscosmos head, mentioned only 2 trillion rubles (or $40 bln at the new rate). The final budget, approved in April 2016, is about 1.6 trillion rubles ($23 bln, i.e. $2.3 bln annually). Probably, the program may be cut further during its implementation.

The first victim of the budget cuts became the super heavy-lift launch vehicle. And what is now proposed in Russia regarding prospective launch vehicles? On December 23, 2014 new modular Angara launch vehicle was flight tested. Its next launch is expected in 2016. But Angara is virtually a copy of Proton at a new technological level and with environmentally friendly propellants. 24 metric tons of payload — that's not a Moon rocket, of course. It is suggested to be enhanced by replacing the third stage (URM-2) with a large LOX/LH2 (oxygen and hydrogen) upper stage. This project was named Angara A5V, and its implementation was included in the Federal Space Program. The launch vehicle is expected to deliver 37 metric tons to LEO. However, preliminary estimates show that only 35 tons or even less can be achieved. Sure, that's not quite a Moon rocket as well, but that's definitely more interesting than usual Angara A5. However, in the latest edition of the Federal Space Program the flight tests for Angara A5V are planned only after 2025. Before 2025 barely the completion of ground testing is planned.

Angara A5V

Besides Angara, Feniks (Phoenix) project development is planned as well. The name apparently alludes to the rebirth of a super heavy-lift launch vehicle. What is the idea? It's the creation of a domestic copy of joint Russian-Ukrainian Zenit launch vehicle. Due to the problems in Ukraine, these launch vehicles will not be shipped anymore, so all-Russian substitute is needed. What's next? First, a core stage with payload of 17 metric tons is created, and then you can integrate three such cores (about 40 metric tons to LEO), five cores (75 tons, or the same Moon rocket). But then again, in 2025 only the completion of ground testing of a single core version is planned. At this rate, launch vehicle for 75 tons can be expected only by 2030.

Different versions of Feniks (Phoenix)

Russian lunar mission, presented by RSC Energia at MAKS 2015, is based on quite a complicated concept. It involves as much as four Angara A5V launch vehicles. A space tug and lunar lander are launched into LEO, then dock and depart for the Moon and wait in lunar orbit. Then another space tug and manned spacacraft are launched into LEO, dock and depart for the Moon. In lunar orbit the manned spacecraft docks with the lander, cosmonauts move into the lander, land on the surface, take off, return to the spacecraft and depart for home. There are huge number of dockings, cryogenic space tugs, need to "shoot with both hands" — to launch rockets from two spaceports often enough, to prevent hydrogen boil off inside the space tug waiting in orbit. It's clear that the program was derived from the existing plans and designs, but even at the time of its creation it doesn't look feasible, unfortunately.

Nw to other Russian plans. There are three lunar probes — experimental Luna-25 lander, Luna-26 orbiter, and Luna-27 heavy lander. It's a timid attempt to repeat in 2019 what the Soviet Union did in the sixties. However, this time they are going to land the probes in a polar region of the Moon. Having extra funding, the implementation of Luna-Grunt project is possible in 2024. That is, if additional funding suddenly appears, then Russia will attempt to do in 2024 the same as China does in 2017 — return soil sample from the Moon.

Information about nuclear-powered module often appears in media. At the same time, journalists usually confuse nuclear thermal rocket (NTR), in which a working fluid (liquid hydrogen) is heated in a nuclear reactor and expands through a rocket nozzle, with nuclear-powered and electrically propelled space tug — essentially space-based nuclear power plant, in which a reactor is used to generate electricity powering a set of electric thrusters. The efficiency of the latter in the Earth-Moon system is quite controversial (gravity losses are too much for low-thrust engines near Earth); however, the development funding continued, and Dmitry Medvedev personally supervised this matter. Today the reactor for this module is created. Unfortunately, the funding for the development of nuclear tug will end in 2018. The creation of nuclear space tug is abandoned, but the creation of reactor remains. It will probably become a reactor for some military spacecraft, but not for a space tug capable of delivering cargo to the Moon.

There are some advanced studies by RSC Energia — their vision of lunar base and infrastructure. On paper, everything is beautiful: lunar orbital station, space tugs, relatively large base on the surface. But the implementation deadlines for these great plans cause sadness and gloom: manned flights to the Moon (i.e. flybys) are after 2025, landing is after 2030; lunar base is after 2040, and then maybe Mars with the use of lunar resources after 2050. They could just as easily specify 3050 as the deadline — nothing would fundamentally change.

Is any other way possible? A small team of enthusiasts considered the question of possibility to create a lunar base faster and cheaper than specified in the official plans. The proposal was named Moon Seven (the seventh landing of humans on the Moon).

What's the basic idea? It's the use of what is available, with minimum upgrade. Of course, when you study the matter in depth, it turns out that this minimum upgrade is often a complete remake, because spacecraft are not bricks of children's construction set, which can be rearranged in any way at will. However, the maximum use of what is already available was claimed, and the refusal of things that require long-term refinement or creation (nuclear space tug, super heavy-lift launch vehicle etc.) That is only technologies available today or within 5 years.

The only possible option for the base of the transportation system is Angara launch vehicle. Several options for its upgrade were considered, including the utmost one — the replacement of the third stage with LOX/LH2 (oxygen and hydrogen) space tug. Later we noticed with interest that this Angara upgrade appeared in the Federal Space Program as well.

Preliminary estimates indicate that, using Angara with LOX/LH2 space tug and Fregat-based lander, it is possible to put 3 to 4 metric tons on the surface of the Moon. 4 tons is very little, of course. To fit in 4 tons a spacecraft that delivers crew to the Moon, and to fit in 4 tons lunar base modules, are non-trivial tasks. However, for the next 10 years for Russia this is the only option for payload delivered, unless dockings are considered.

An option for lunar manned spacecraft based on Soyuz spacecraft modules was also considered. We should warn you against one mistake. Many of us, looking at Moon Seven pictures, think that Soyuz is put onto Fregat and sent to the Moon. No, it's not Soyuz, but a fundamentally new spacecraft, of course. The main disadvantage is that it requires the creation of this spacecraft, and the spacecraft is to be very light (4 tons without engine compartment based on Fregat) and modern.

Two options are considered: spacecraft based on Soyuz and based on the return capsule (VA) of the TKS spacecraft. The spacecraft based on the return capsule of the TKS is arranged much better as it has a hatch in the bottom allowing to place an airlock below the return capsule.

The point is that in Moon Seven we propose to use a direct ascent method to reach the surface of the Moon. Sure, this method is inferior in terms of energy to lunar orbit rendezvous used by Apollo. However, there are some advantages: no dockings are needed, no need to keep the spacecraft in lunar orbit for long period. The spacecraft waits next to the landing site, and can be used anytime for the return to Earth. There are some advantages and some reductions of mass, though somewhat compensated due to the refueling on the lunar surface. First, two refueling tanker spacecraft are sent to the Moon. Next, a manned spacecraft lands nearby and is refueled from them for the return flight. That is you don't need to bring this fuel to the surface in the same spacecraft.

It's interesting that recently on RSC Energia website some documents of 1960-s have been published about lunar mission options using the N1 launch vehicle. It was found that direct ascent option was also considered. It is called "Lunar mission profile with refueling on the surface of the Moon". Diagrams drawn during the development of Moon Seven are very similar to what was proposed by OKB-1 in the distant sixties. Even the number of refueling tanker spacecraft is the same. That's another proof of the fact that this option is viable under certain initial conditions.

Why lunar base is proposed, but not lunar orbital station for Moon Seven? One of the main advantages of the base on the lunar surface is gravity. Life support system becomes simpler at least for the fact that convection of gases occurs in a gravitational field. Life becomes easier: usual meal, toilet, shower. Organizing it all in Earth orbital station or in lunar orbital station requires extra efforts.

Advantage #2: lunar soil (regolith) can be used to protect the base from radiation. Lunar orbital station will have to be protected with something brought from Earth or the Moon. That's complicated. Lunar base can be covered with regolith, which is literally underfoot. In Moon Seven an option is proposed to cover the roof of the base, because covering of the modules themselves causes some problems: access to the modules, extension of the base. The cable-shaft structure of the roof can be folded for delivery, then unfolded on the surface of the Moon.

What drawbacks are inherent in the simplest lunar base — "the first tent"? To minimize the number of rocket launches, the crew is assumed to have two members, and the shifts are to be long — up to one year. Is that possible? Many doubt it.

Effect of promotion. Many people say it is greater for Mars. But that's a debatable issue — it depends on how it is presented.

For the base deployment we chose a so-called peak of eternal light — Malapert mountain, a site where the sun almost never sets, and solar panels can be used all year round. Of course, there are periods when the sun is behind the surrounding peaks, but it is just three terrestrial days (at most one week), while 89% of the time is daytime. So, a relatively small stock of rechargeable batteries is enough. And most importantly — no nuclear reactor is needed!

Lev Zeleny, Director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, made the following forecast: "By the middle of the XXI century a rivalry will unfold for occupying regions near the lunar poles, and for the opportunity to establish a lunar base, resembling the contention for the Arctic shelf, which has now become an area of economic interests of many countries". The point is that there are not many suitable regions near the lunar poles, and it will probably occur not that fast, so there will be no contention as such, but suitable sites for lunar base construction are really scarce. There are no more than a few dozen places.

While working on Moon Seven, we considered base construction method, life support system (including evaluation of required reserves), cargo delivery profile. Everything was calculated, though with a first-order approximation. Sure, the level of study is not enough for engineering drawings and manufacturing, but nevertheless, some figures were obtained.

ASCON company, which provided CAD system — KOMPAS-3D software — to the enthusiasts, is worth noting here.

The number of launch vehicles required for the lunar base deployment and support was also estimated. According to the claims made earlier by Khrunichev Space Center, everything is in very good agreement. Now they have more modest plans, and there may be some questions. How many launch vehicles are needed? The base deployment requires 34 launches of improved Angara A5 over 4 years. That's pretty much. However, these are not super heavy-lift rockets!

The cost is $12 bln over 5 years. This is roughly twice the amount spent for the ISS during same period. The lunar base, even in such a truncated form, costs two times more than the Russian Orbital Segment. Let us remind you, the American experts estimate is $10 bln for private companies to reach the Moon.

Simulation of the surface, lunar base and lunar rover became our joint effort with a lab of the Department of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University. The point is that specialists of this lab contacted Roscosmos asking for models of spacecraft and lunar infrastructure, and Roscosmos responded with "Come back in 20 years". At this point Moon Seven came to the rescue!

One of the main arguments of the critics of Moon Seven — you have a large and complicated program based on new technology, but who and with what funding will implement all this? So a truncated version named Moon Seven v2.0 was proposed — using currently available technology that doesn't require a new rocket, nor new spacecraft.

Manned circumlunar flight is already possible today! Existing slightly upgraded Soyuz spacecraft docks with Block D upper stage, launched by Proton-M or Angara A5, and makes a circumlunar flight. What can be done during the flight? First, lunar rovers can be operated without signal transmission delay. Second, prestige: breaking the human flight altitude record set by Apollo 13; first woman near the Moon.

Next, mission with lunar orbit insertion doesn't even require creating hydrogen infrastructure. Two Angara A5 launch vehicles, DM-3 and Fregat-SB upper stages. With two Angara A5 launches it is possible to implement a mission in Soyuz spacecraft to a lunar orbit. Then observe the surface from a polar orbit around the Moon, operate lunar rovers. All the technology for such a mission is available today in Russia, and only some adaptation and ground infrastructure improvement is needed (refitting Angara launch pad for manned missions, or building a launch pad suitable for manned missions at Vostochny Cosmodrome).

Such a mission is real before 2020, and allows to achieve some firsts — world's first activity in polar orbit around the Moon, first taking of soil sample controlled from manned spacecraft, etc.

And the third stage of Moon Seven v2.0 is Moon landing. It will take four Angara A5 launches. Existing official program also requires 4 launches, but of nonexistent Angara A5V launch vehicle, which is yet to be created. Moon Seven v2.0 can be implemented in parallel to operating the Russian Orbital Segment of the ISS, because it won't require exorbitant funding.

Do we need the Moon at all? First you have to answer the question: whether humans will go farther into space? If humans refuse to expand into space, then all tasks can be performed by robotic probes. Remote sensing of Earth, scientific missions — this is what robotic probes perform very well. But having refused to expand, mankind remains locked on Earth and therefore sooner or later doomed to extinction.

If the answer is "yes", and humans go further into space, then the Moon looks like a natural target not for terraforming, not for transforming it into a copy of Earth, but as a resource base: solar energy, not reduced by the atmosphere; ice; various components of regolith (silicon for solar cells, titanium for structures); testing ground for validation of space technologies created on Earth. Christopher McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, once said: "If you can camp in your backyard, it doesn't necessarily mean you're ready for the Sahara. But if you can't camp in your backyard, then you certainly aren't ready to go to the desert... If we can't do it on the moon, there's no chance that we can do it on Mars." Besides, the Moon can become an excellent scientific platform — infrared telescopes and cryolabs in shadowed craters, radio telescopes on the far side (shielded by the Moon from radio interference from Earth). And this is not science fiction: a small telescope was installed on Chang'e 3 lander and was being used to make observations right from the Moon. Unlike Mars, which is far away, the Moon can be quickly incorporated into the terrestrial technosphere.

How? Energy converted by solar panels placed on the Moon can be transferred as a beam to antennae of space tugs in Earth orbit, and then to Earth.

The next step is direct use of lunar material. Transfer of it to refueling stations. Surprisingly, the delivery of material from the surface of the Moon to low Earth orbit (using aerobraking in the atmosphere of Earth) requires much smaller delta-v budget than from the surface of Earth to LEO. Delivery from the Moon is more efficient! Sure, after at least a minimal infrastructure for the preparation and dispatch of material will be deployed there.

There is a project from Boeing — refueling station in LEO. This station can be supplied with lunar resources as well. Refueling of Martian interplanetary complex with lunar resources can significantly reduce the cost of cargo delivery to Mars and establish steady flow of cargo. If we want to fly to Mars on a regular basis, to create research stations there, then we can't do without lunar resources.

You can imagine a shipyard station which is located near the Moon and supplied with lunar resources. It will be used as an assembly facility for heavy interplanetary spacecraft.

Mass driver or even mechanical catapult will allow to launch cargo from the surface of the Moon either to the Lagrangian point or to Earth orbit.

And, of course, the development of lunar bases will eventually lead to the construction of full-scale lunar city. Sure, there are many issues. Will humans be able to live in reduced gravity, or the construction of rotating annular structures will be needed? How lunar dust will affect humans and hardware during long shifts on the Earth's natural satellite? However, despite all the potential issues, the Moon looks like a logical destination to gain a foothold on it, and step further into space using lunar resources.

Alexander Ilin, CTO of Lin Industrial

Last updated on April 8, 2016.