Roscosmos Eyes Crewed Flights from French Guiana, Seeks Partners for Lunar Base with China

A Soyuz-2 launches the CSO-2 defense satellite on Dec. 29, 2020. (Credit: Arianespace)
  • Roscosmos head discussed launching cosmonauts from Kourou with French counterpart
  • Russian-Chinese lunar south pole base is rival to planned U.S. facility
  • Russia to begin design work on new Earth orbiting station by late summer

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Roscosmos is exploring the possibility of launching spacecraft from the Guiana Space Centre in South America that would carry cosmonauts to the new Chinese space station and a base that Russia and China plan to build at the lunar south pole, according to media reports. Russia is also beginning work on a new Earth orbiting space station.

“We are discussing with our French colleagues the possibility of transforming the Soyuz-2 launch complex, which is located in Guiana, within the framework of a large lunar project, so that it can be used for manned programs. Including for launching ships in the direction of the Chinese station,” Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin told TASS.

Ergonomic testing has been conducted for the new Orel spacecraft. (Credit: RSC Energia)

Rogozin said he discussed the possibility of crewed launches from French Guiana during a recent video conference with Philippe Batista, the president of the French space agency, CNES. He said Roscosmos is also in discussion with Chinese officials about launching Russian cosmonauts to China’s recently launched space station.

Russia currently uses Soyuz-2 rockets to launch three-person Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). Roscosmos is developing a larger crew vehicle named Orel that will be capable of carrying four to six cosmonauts to Earth orbit or the moon. Orel will be launched by the Soyuz-5 booster, which is now in development.

Rogozin said he and Batista also discussed possible French participation on the Chinese-Russian International Scientific Lunar Station. China and Russia have invited other countries to participate in the venture.

Zhang Yuan, who represents the China National Space Administration in Russia, said there are potential international partners for the lunar station.

Credit: CNSA/Roscosmos

“A number of countries and organizations have expressed a desire to participate in our project,” he said.

A Roscosmos official said private companies might also be allowed to participate in the lunar base.

“To date, we have not fixed any provisions regarding private companies, but we do not exclude the participation of private business. This is a matter of further work,” said Sergei Saveliev, Roscosmos deputy general director for international cooperation.

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

The Russian-Chinese lunar project is in competition with the NASA’s Artemis program, which is planning exploration of the south pole and developing the human-tended Lunar Gateway that will orbit the moon. Japan, Canada, the European Space Agency and other countries have signed on as partners in the U.S.-led effort. Russia is the only partner in the ISS program that has not signed on to participate in Artemis.

Meanwhile, Roscosmos is looking beyond ISS to the development of a new space station in Earth orbit. Rogozin told TASS that preliminary design of the Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS) will probably begin by the end of this summer.

The new station will be launched at an inclination of 97-98 degrees, allowing it to orbit the entire Earth every two days. Russia is particularly interested in providing coverage over the Arctic region, whose rapid melting is opening up sea routes.

“That is, there is a much greater pragmatism of this station, we would like to create such a station,” Rogozin said.