Russia has announced that it wants to start sending humans to the Moon again in 2031.
The announcement was made by Vladimir Solntsev, CEO of Russian rocket company Energia, on Tuesday, reported Russian news agency TASS.
The somewhat loose plans at the moment seem to center around building a new space station in lunar orbit in the next decade – although details on this are few and far between at the moment – and possibly a base on the lunar surface, too. Russia is in the process of developing a new heavy-lift rocket, and a manned spacecraft called Federation, to achieve these goals.
According to Solntsev, the timeline would see an unmanned spacecraft fly around the Moon in 2026. In 2027, another unmanned spacecraft will practice landing on the Moon, followed by another unmanned flight in 2029.
“In the 2030s, we set the task of a manned flight to the Moon and in 2031 we plan landing on the Moon," he added. The US, of course, is the only country to have achieved the feat so far.
Now, truth be told we’ve heard this sort of bluff and bluster from Russia before. In fact, Solntsev himself said back in October 2015 that they were originally aiming for a 2029 manned lunar landing, so this latest news represents a delay of sorts.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has long been linked with being part of these manned lunar missions, with NASA now apparently also a potential partner.
An ESA concept for a lunar base. ESA/Foster + Partners
The three already cooperate successfully on the International Space Station (ISS), which is currently scheduled to be closed and de-orbited in 2024 – although Russia plans to detach its segment and create a new space station. However, Solntsev said that this may be extended to 2028, which would make sense if the station is continuing to operate nominally by then, considering the cost of building it has far exceeded $100 billion.
"We have an effective document on the ISS operation till 2024,” said Solntsev. “The question remains open what will happen after that. The ISS life cycle may be prolonged. At the moment 2028 is being discussed as a possibility.”
And that’s not the only ISS news making the rounds. In a short news story, NASA somewhat inadvertently confirmed that, from next year, the number of people on board the station will be reduced from six to five – for a short period of time at least.
This is because Russia is planning to temporarily reduce the number of cosmonauts it sends to the station by one on its Soyuz spacecraft. But once SpaceX and Boeing begin flying their new manned spacecraft to the ISS in 2018, the capacity will be increased again to six, as each of those vehicles can transport four people.