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Author(s) of the publication: Yaroslav SIBIRTSEV

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Thirty-six years ago the world's first domestic space station Salyut-1 (1971) took over the watch starting a new direction in space research. Fifteen years later a base module of the station of new generation-Mir* (1986) began operating over the Earth. Now the large and yet incomplete International Space Station (MKS)** operates on the orbit. A generation of people believing that man's permanent presence on orbit is natural grew up during all these years. However, there are people advocating a different opinion: it's of no use to spend resources for such expensive targets, it's cheaper to delegate shooting of the Earth and production of materials to automatic machines. Why then do some countries seek to participate in the MKS joint project and the others, for example, China, create a proper space station? Finally, what do near-Earth development laboratories give and will be able to give in future for human civilization? Chief Research Worker of S. Korolev Aerospace Corporation "Energiya" Leonid Gorshkov, Dr. Sc. (Tech.), answered these and many other questions of correspondent of journal The Russian Space Yekaterina Beloglazova.

When developing space stations, he emphasized, the tendency to make them as efficient as possible was natural. However, it didn't come out immediately. On the first Salyut researches were carried out at a definite time because it had to be periodically directed at the Sun to re-charge chemical batteries which at that time were stiffly fastened on the body of product, as they could not turn to the celestial body themselves. Soon, this disadvantage was removed on Salyut-4 (1976), and there appeared an opportunity of carrying out scientific experiments without time limit.

Another problem worried specialists for a long time-fuel reserve, living facilities are not endless, which reduced duration of each station operation on orbit. Introduction of a supply system on Salyut-6 (1978) with the help of re-supply vehicles of Progress series letting permanently deliver consumable components and research equipment on board the orbital laboratory, made a real revolution in this business. Now time for researches depended only on the resource of the near-Earth construction itself.

See: V. Senkevich, "Russian Space Research at the Turn of Centuries", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2001. - Ed.

** See: L. Zeleny, "For the Sake of Learning the Universe", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2005; N. Sevastyanov, "The Cause of Legendary Designer Lives On". Science in Russia, No. 1, 2007. - Ed.

стр. 10

Further. At the more perfect Mir space station, apart from the base module where a crew lived and worked, there were separate target modules Quant, Quant-2, Spectrum and Priroda (Nature). Technological plants to produce different materials and biological preparations under the conditions of zero gravity were placed on them, as well as devices to study the Earth's natural resources and telescopes to watch celestial sphere.

However, in the course of Mir operation its weak points were found out: the engineers did not manage to save the complex from energy "hunger" though it all was literally filled with solar batteries. The matter is that they were situated on the modules and "shaded" each other. So, in the project of future Mir-2 station with little increase of total weight of the complex they decided to fasten solar batteries on frameworks, having avoided, therefore, mutual shadowing of the batteries. As a result, all performance indicators of Mir-2 improved, weight of research equipment increased from 10 to 15 t, average power loading rose from 16 to 35 kW.

Today it became a norm to use re-supply vehicles to deliver necessary materials and equipment to the orbit. However, it was difficult to achieve this. Let us imagine how an automatic ship Progress flies to the station on which there is a crew. As it is well-known, failures can happen to any equipment. And the relative speed of an approaching object is enough to destroy the flying laboratory together with its crew.

The experience of using re-supply vehicles was gained in the USSR by that time in the course of automatic docking with Salyut station. One hundred and ten "Progresses" successfully delivered fuel and cargoes to the places of destination (only once Progress M-34, when exercising remote control of docking, insignificantly damaged the module Spectrum, but this incident does not dispute high efficiency of the proposed supply system for manned orbital complexes).

Besides, there is always an opportunity of docking manually in remote piloting. On the Progress the relevant cameras are installed, sort of the "eyes of the crew" on the station. One of cosmonauts manages the processes of approaching and docking with the orders given through a radio channel. He does this in such a way as if he were on board the approaching object. Undoubtedly, this method has the future.

It is well-known that the near-Earth orbit is an exceptionally important place to study our planet and celestial sphere. The conditions of space flight, namely, zero gravity, allow to carry out unique researches, obtain materials and preparations with particular properties. Of course, such works require more time, a big set of scientific hardware and equipment so that a man could watch the course of process and suggest solutions to one or another problem to specialists on the Earth.

One cannot do without a human being when building large complicated constructions on orbit. Such targets will let solve a great deal of problems in future, first of all, energy, ecological, and production ones. Automatic devices will help carry out necessary researches, for example, of the Moon* or Mars**, while people will have to develop these celestial bodies.

See: Yu. Avsyuk, "Focus on Lunar Studies"; I. Mitrofanov, "Mastering the Moon"; E. Galimov, "Luna-Helium-3" Project", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2006. - Ed.

** See: E. Galimov, "'Phobos-Grunt', the Russian Project", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2006. - Ed.

стр. 11

As to the flight to the Red Planet planned by the Federal space program (2006 - 2015), one cannot do without solving a number of yet unclear complicated technical problems. Above all, it is important to create the conditions which will let the individual be outside the Earth for a long time. Let us remember that when in 1970 Andrian Nikolayev and Vitaly Sevastyanov returned home after an 18-day expedition to the orbit, judging by the state of their health, many specialists had an opinion that man's stay under the conditions of zero gravity was not possible. However, search of the scientists from the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems headed by Academician Oleg Gazenko allowed to gradually increase time of stay of people on the orbit*. As a result, already in 1978, Georgy Grechko spent 96 days at Salyut-6 station. Frankly speaking, there was an opinion that this was a limit. But in 1995 Doctor Valery Polyakov spent 438 days at the Mir space station and confirmed that the duration of flight required for interplanetary expeditions is quite real.

All these researches went slowly and carefully but it is impossible to decide to fly to the Mars without such painstaking work. Space stations will play a decisive role when preparing it.

In conclusion Leonid Gorshkov answered another fundamental question: "Does individual need to broaden his activities outside the Earth?"

"Undoubtedly", the scientist affirms. Civilization's development is connected with gradual depletion of resources of the Earth in the broad sense of the word and, first of all, consumption of ecological opportunity of survival of people on our planet.

Now they speak a lot about the search of "pure" energy sources, struggle with greenhouse effect, etc. However, solution of these problems can only put off a "non-return point" for some time. The inflow of the purest energy in the Earth's ecological system cannot be endless. On the other hand, one can hardly manage to stop permanent rise of "appetite" of the inhabitants of the Earth. The diagram of non-linear consumption of energy on our planet shows: the danger is much closer than many realize. It is important for the mankind to realize it before the beginning of irreversible processes in the world ecology and manage to create a relevant space infrastructure to restore balance. The building of productions on the near-Earth orbit and cheap transportation system will require several decades, won't it?

And another thing. Sooner or later one will have to start the process of removing enterprises with considerable energy consumption and ecologically hazardous wastes from the Earth's surface. Here one will not be able to do without flights of space stations, creation of space tugboats, deployment of large transformable constructions, development of the systems for man's long-term work in space.

Ye. Beloglazova, " We Won V Do Without Space Stations ", Rossiisky Kosmos (The Russian Space), No. 12, 2006

The illustrations are from "The Russian Space" journal

Prepared by Yaroslav SIBIRTSEV

* See: O. Gazenko et al., "Space Medicine: Yesterday, Today. Tomorrow", Science in Russia, Nos. 3, 4, 2006. - Ed.


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Yaroslav SIBIRTSEV, ORBITAL STATIONS ON SPACE WATCH // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 01.10.2018. URL: (date of access: 31.03.2023).

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