Former S7 Space employees suggest developing a cargo spacecraft


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Former S7 Space employees suggest developing a cargo spacecraft

On September 30, the Russian company MTKS announced plans to build an Argo reusable cargo spacecraft. MTKS was founded by former S7 Space Director Sergei Sopov. He was also joined by a native of RSC Energia, who also worked for S7 Space for some time, Nikolay Bryukhanov.

In its layout, the Argo is exceptionally similar to the promising new generation transport ship that is currently being developed by RSC Energia. The lander is reusable and is designed for 20 flights. It has a composite hull (previously abandoned the analogous RSC Energia) with straight walls and, according to the presentation, it is able to deliver 2 tons of cargo to the ISS and return 1 tons from it to Earth. It uses a reactive landing system, from which the developers of the PTK NPs also refused at the stage of technical design. The service compartment of the ship is disposable.

According to an article by RIA Novosti, the Soyuz-2.1b rocket can be used for Argo launches, however, the presentation shows the mass of the ship at 11 tons, which exceeds the capabilities of this rocket. Probably, at the first stage, MTKS wants to create a scaled down version of the ship.

In general, the idea of ​​replacing Progress cargo ships is not new. "Progress" was created to supply low-orbit stations in the late 1970s on the basis of the Soyuz manned spacecraft. It has a very small usable volume, which significantly reduces the possibilities for its use. At the same time, it is capable of delivering 2.6 tons of cargo to the station, including fuel that is pumped to the ISS fuel system. In 2016, RSC Energia proposed its concept of a promising cargo ship. This ship could not return cargo to Earth, but had a voluminous cargo compartment and was capable of delivering 3.6 tons of cargo into space.

The ability to return cargo from space should in no case be underestimated. Each SpaceX Dragon ship returns to Earth from the ISS at least several hundred kg of cargo (often more than a ton), including the results of scientific experiments. In the 1990s, the Rainbow ballistic return capsules were widely used to return scientific samples from the Mir station. Roscosmos does not have a laboratory module at the International Space Station, and therefore the scientific program of the ISS Russian segment has always been quite limited. Even worse, in recent years, the scientific program has been greatly reduced due to the reduction of the Russian crew of the station and the reform of the Academy of Sciences. At the same time, on the Soyuz MS-14 unmanned vehicle in September of this year, the results of 13 experiments that had been waiting for this opportunity for a long time were returned to Earth. If the laboratory module “Science” and the new scientific and energy module are docked to the station, and Roscosmos liberalizes the rules for admission of scientific experiments to the ISS, the need to return cargo to Earth will become quite acute.

Now the Argo concept looks as if the MTKS considers this ship as a testbed for testing promising technologies, such as jet landing, composite hulls of spacecraft, etc., and in the future they plan to create either a large transport ship based on it, either manned. These ambitions are especially evident when you consider that the company's plans also include the development of a partially reusable Tantra rocket.

There may be questions to the proposed technical solutions — in particular, the idea of ​​using a returnable apparatus with a composite case up to 20 times raises doubts — however, these questions cannot be compared with the commercial problems of the MTKS project.

There is no commercial freight market in space. The only customers for such services are the states, and the International Space Station remains the only object for service to date.

In the United States, the program for creating commercial cargo ships was successful: regular flights to the ISS are operated by Dragon from SpaceX and Cygnus from Northrop Grumann. To achieve this, NASA immediately guaranteed a stable launch order, co-financed development under the COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program, and actively assisted in development, including sharing technology.

Roscosmos, despite the signing of a "cooperation agreement," is not ready to take any of these measures – and this actually nullifies the chances of MTKS to find financing for its project.

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