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Russia’s Planned New Space Ship Will Upgrade Space Station Cargo Delivery

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EIRNS —Russian engineers are finishing the design of a new unmanned space cargo vehicle which will replace the venerable Progress ships that have been delivering supplies to Russian space stations since 1978, and to the International Space Station since it went into operation. The new vehicle will increase, by a ton, the 7-ton cargo capacity of the Progress, Russian space expert Anatoly Zak reports. This increased payload capacity will allow Russia to reduce the number of resupply missions to the ISS from four to three per year, Zak says. It will combine both new and off-the-shelf technology. Russia has been looking for ways to cut its ISS costs and increase efficiency, and recently announced that its three-man crew will be reduced by one. This reduces supplies needed on the station, and the number of Progress flights. But that is just a temporary measure.

Zak says the planned new vehicle features a "radical new design." It will be more efficient, with a simplified design, and combine some now-separate functions, such as delivering propellant to the station, and carrying the fuel the Progress itself needs, in the same fuel tank, rather than separate tanks. The new ship will be able to remain docked to the ISS for a year, as compared to the half-year limit on its functioning at the present time. When emptied of supplies, the Progress craft are filled with trash from the ISS, and the vehicle burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Zak reports that "even with all the shortcuts and the streamlined design, the new ship is not expected to reach the launchpad until at least 2020." It would thus be available for what will likely be the last four years of ISS operations, up to 2024, and for follow-on space stations after ISS is retired.

Russia is in the midst of rebuilding and up-grading its space technology base and advanced manufacturing and mission capabilities, with a new series of launch vehicles, cargo ships, crew vehicles, and plans for deep space missions with international partners.