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SPACE FLIGHT 2001 -- Russian Space Activities

Despite a slowly improving national economy, Russia in 2001 showed a pronounced slowdown in space operations from 2000. Its total of 23 successful launches (out of 23 attempts) was actually 11 less than the previous year's 34 (out of 36 attempts): 8 Soyuz-U (two crewed), six Protons, three Tsiklons (modified from the former intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] SS-9), two Soyuz-FG, one Zenit-2, one Molniya, one Kosmos-3M, and one Start-1 (converted from the former Topol ICBM). The new Soyuz-FG rocket was launched for the first time on May 21; due to a new fuel injection system, it provides a five percent increase in thrust over the Soyuz-U, enhancing its lift capability by 200 kg. This enables it to carry the new Soyuz-TMA spacecraft, which is heavier than the Soyuz-TM ship currently used to ferry crews to the International Space Station (ISS). Soyuz-TMA will be flown for the first time in October 2002.

In its partnership with the U.S. in the development of the ISS, Russia launched two crewed Soyuz "taxi" ships to provide the ISS with the periodically renewed crew return vehicle, and three automated Progress cargo ships. It also added a Russian airlock module, the DC-1 (Docking Module 1) "Pirs", launched on a Soyuz rocket, to the Russian segment of the ISS.

Space station Mir. 2001 saw the end of Mir. Due to lack of financing, Russia had been forced to abandon its long-lived space station in August 1999 when its owner, RSC-Energia, found itself unable to fund continued crewed operation of the station. This left the station without a crew for the first time since a short uncrewed period ten years earlier. On January 26, 2001, Mir was visited one last time by an uncrewed Progress tanker ship (M1-5), and on March 20, 2001, in a precise maneuver by the Progress propulsion system, the venerable 134-ton space station was deorbited for a historical atmospheric reentry over the Pacific Ocean on March 23 (9 am Moscow time), with fiery debris streaking over the Fiji archipelago. Launched on February 20, 1986, in its 15 years of operation Mir circled Earth over 86,000 times, covering a distance of about 4 billion km (2.5 billion miles). During 4591 days of human occupation, the complex hosted 125 cosmonauts and astronauts from 12 different countries and saw 78 spacewalks conducted from it. It supported 17 space expeditions, including 28 long-term crews. Its residents arrived via 31 spacecraft that docked with Mir, including nine U.S. space shuttles. Additionally, 64 uncrewed Progress cargo ships periodically ferried supplies, equipment and propellants to Mir, which also served as a weightless laboratory for 23,000 scientific and medical experiments.

Commercial space activities. The Russian space program's major push to enter into the world's commercial arena by promoting its space products on the external market, driven by the need to survive in an era of severe reductions of public financing, suffered a setback in 2001. First launched in July 1965, the Proton heavy lifter, originally intended as a ballistic missile (UR500), by end-2001 had flown 209 times since 1980, with 13 failures (reliability: 0.942). Its launch rate in recent years has been as high as 13 per year. Of the six Protons launched in '01 (2000: 14), two were for commercial customers (ASTRA 2C, PAS-10), the others for the state, including military. Between 1985-2001, 157 Proton and 381 Soyuz rockets were launched, with nine failures of the Proton and nine of the Soyuz, giving a combined reliability index of 0.966. By end-2001, the Soyuz rocket had flown 70 consecutive successful missions, including 11 with human crews on board.

Of the three launches of the Russian-Ukrainian Zenit-2 rocket, two were conducted from the ocean-based Sea Launch facility Odyssey (in which RSC-Energia has a 25% share), carrying the radio comsats XM2 ("Rock") and XM1 ("Roll").

In a new commercial venture, which replaced the former venture of selling services on board the Mir space station, Russia has now taken the initiative to market journeys to the ISS to "space tourists", beginning with Dennis Tito in April 2001, and paying guest cosmonauts like Claudie Haigneré.