The Kremlin-backed news channel RT reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed off on a new space station called ROSS to replace an International Space Station (ISS) expected to suffer an “avalanche” of failures after 2025.
In recent years, the ISS has begun to fall apart, with astronauts now frequently discovering cracks. Last week, it was revealed that Russian cosmonauts were still working on plugging a leak first noticed in 2019. The ongoing problems with the international station have prompted Moscow to begin creating a replacement.
Called ROSS, the Russian orbital satellite will consist of three to seven modules and will be able to carry up to four people. Although only approved by Putin on Monday, on the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s landmark first human spaceflight, the project has been in the works for some time. Last November, the first deputy designer general for space contractor RSC Energia revealed his belief that Russia needed to get started on a new station, saying the ISS was already falling apart.
“Until 2025, Russia has obligations to participate in the ISS program,” Vladimir Solovyov told the Russian Academy of Sciences. “There are already a number of elements that have been seriously damaged and are out of service. Many of them are not replaceable. After 2025, we predict an avalanche-like failure of numerous elements onboard the ISS.”
The U.S. wants to extend station operations until 2028 or 2030. But, a Russian pull out in 2025 and a series of major failures after that could put an end to the plan. It could also accelerate NASA’s plans to transition to private space stations in low Earth orbit (LEO).
NASA recently laid out its plans to become one of many users of privately build and operated space stations under its Commercial LEO Destination (CLD) program. The reduced presence in Earth orbit would allow the space agency to focus on its Artemis program to send astronauts back to the moon.
NASA anticipates needing to maintain the presences of two astronauts in Earth orbit performing about 200 scientific investigations annually. The space agency plans to spend hundreds of millions per year maintaining that presence.
NASA plans to award contracts for the development of private space stations at the end of this year. Phase I awards are scheduled for the first quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2022, which will begin on Oct. 1, 2021.
Phase 1 awards will help companies refine their plans for “safe, reliable and cost-effective commercial LEO destinations.” NASA expects to gain a deeper understanding of supply needs and commercial demand for Earth orbit operations from the funded projects.
NASA expects to make up to four awards from a total budget of $300 to $400 million. Companies receiving awards will be required to contribute their own funding to the projects.
Phase 1 will take NASA and the companies into FY 2025. The projects will be funded under Space Act Agreements (SAAs), which will provide substantial flexibility to contractors because they will include a minimum of government requirements. NASA successfully used SAAs in the development of commercial cargo and crew programs.
NASA would use much more rigorous federal acquisition regulation (FAR) to award contracts “for one or more commercial LEO destination(s), initially to perform certification activities and then to purchase services.” Contracts will be awarded using a “full and open competition.”