Friday, March 16, 2012

Russian Pull Back?

Conflicting news reports in the Russian media state that Russia's space agency has either cancelled or postponed plans for future planetary missions (except apparently the joint ExoMars mission with ESA).  These missions include the Venera-D Venus lander and orbiter as well as a number of other missions (for example, to Mercury).  No specific reason is given, although one article makes the point that the decision has come after the failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission to return samples from the Martian moon Phobos.

The following two links are Google translations of Russian sites; as the translated titles suggest, the translation can be choppy but generally can be followed:

Federal Space Agency chose "Arctic" Venus and Mercury
Federal Space Agency does not intend to turn off research projects, provided the PCF

My thanks to machi at the Unmanned Spaceflight Forum for the links.

Editorial Thoughts: This cancellation or indefinite postponment is disappointing but not unexpected after the Phobos-Grunt failure.  There were a number of missions on the Russian wishlist, more than either the better funded NASA or ESA programs could had carried out.  Plans for the Venera-D mission appear to have been reasonably far along.  I am disappointed by the loss of this mission, since it would have been the only chance for a landing on Venus this decade.

You may have noticed much more limited coverage of the Russian, Chinese, and Indian planetary programs in my blog than for the US, European, and Japanese programs.  All space programs have long wish lists of missions.  I've learned which sources to use to distinguish the approved and likely missions from the latter group of space agencies but not from the former group.  For example, a friend has forwarded me a presentation on Chinese plans for planetary exploration that include some very likely near term lunar missions and some missions that are at best years away including a Martian sample return.  While the Chinese may end up being the first to return samples from Mars, they (and everyone else) currently lack the technology to conduct the mission.  I can't see such a mission before the second half of the next decade, which puts its in the indefinite future after several changes in government leadership and several economic cycles.

I categorize future plans for planetary missions into three categories:

  • Missions approved and funded by the appropriate political systems (usually national governments but a set of national governements in the case of ESA)
  • Missions firmly on the roadmap of a space agency for which it has concrete plans to develop needed technologies and to request formal approval and funding.  I include in this category missions that are in competition for selection through a competitive program such as NASA's Discovery program or ESA's Large science mission program.
  • Missions an agency would someday like to fly and include on their long term roadmaps to serve as guides in their planning and technology development.  Approval is well beyond the current planning horizon.

In general, I focus on missions in the first two categories, although I occassionally discuss an interesting mission concept.  (And sometimes missions can't be neatly categorized: NASA is "committed" to a Mars sample return mission and to a Europa mission, although their approval is always just over the planning horizon.)  My less extensive coverage of the programs of Russia, China, and India reflect my more limited ability to distinguish likely missions from wish lists.  If any of you can point me towards good sources of information, I'd be most grateful.

1 comment:

  1. I found it interestig that Luna-Resurs & Luna-Glob went unmentioned in either article.