Site: Energia Space Firm
Pionerskaya St. 4
Date Visited: May 17, 1993
Report Author: D. Walsh
Dr. Ing. Vjcheslaw A. Nikitin; Leader of the Laboratory, PSS Buran
These comments are a supplement to the report written by Mr. Claude Brancart, the primary author.
Energia is the Russian institute for development and construction of manned spaceflight systems (another institute is responsible for unmanned systems). Energia-developed spacecraft such as the Mir series have established manned spacecraft mission records of many months. Due to the relatively large size of manned systems, Energia has developed the most powerful launching rockets (e.g., the Proton series) in the world.
The WTEC team's interest was in spacecraft systems' components, such as life support, compact energy sources, control designs, and so forth. Also, the team had been informed that Energia was involved in the development of a manned submersible with a company called Intershelf (see the report on the WTEC visit to that company below).
Currently Energia continues work on its Buran space shuttle system. The WTEC team had the opportunity to board the prototype of this spacecraft.
Energia's life support systems design was conservative and simple.
Batteries and fuel cells appeared to be similar to those that are state of the art in the West. Energia has been working on fuel cell development for the past twenty years. The latest system, Photon, is onboard Buran. This is an O2-Alkaline unit similar to that being used by NASA's Space Shuttle Program. The agency's scientists are using nickel-iron primary batteries, which were developed by the LUCH Institute near Moscow (WTEC did not visit LUCH during this trip). They have done some experimentation with hydrazine and gotten as far as prototype testing, but no flight systems have been developed. O2-H2 batteries are also in laboratory testing. No nuclear thermionic power systems are used here. (However, the Soviets did have some sort of small nuclear reactor for spacecraft, and they went into space. The United States has even bought one recently, so it is not clear why Energia did not mention this. Perhaps it was developed by a competing institute).
Energia's control systems seem to be less complex (requiring more piloting by the crew) than those used by NASA for manned spacecraft.
Most of the visit time was occupied by visits to Energia's museum, large prototype construction hall, and hall of history. The museum featured virtually all of the Soviet and Russian manned spacecraft (usually the actual cabins of the vehicles) dating back to the very first Sputnik. The time frame represented by the hardware in the museum was nearly a third of a century. The number of vehicles and variety of designs were very impressive and a matter of great pride to Energia.
In the prototype construction hall, the prototypes of all of the currently operational manned spacecraft, including the Buran space shuttle, were on display. The team was told that the full operating prototype was set up in this hall to help overcome any in-flight difficulties encountered by the flight vehicle. Energia engineers would attempt to duplicate the problem on the prototype and then advise the cosmonauts about how to fix it in flight. Although the walk-through was fairly brief, it appeared that there were from six to eight prototypes set up in the hall. Only a few people appeared to be working in this area.
After visiting the construction hall, panel members participated in some brief discussions about the WTEC team's goals. Ten Energia representatives were present in the conference room. Team members found that there did not seem to be any technical areas of interest (i.e., applicable to deep submersibles) that could be considered innovative or unknown in the West.
Energia, like virtually all high-technology institutes in the former USSR, is suffering from severe funding cutbacks. For example, their space shuttle has only flown twice, and only once in the manned mode. However, due to the low cost and high efficiency of their launch rockets, there is considerable interest in the West to acquire lower cost launching systems for satellites. Also, Energia has been working with NASA on the redesign of space station Freedom in an effort to reduce its cost. While this institute is looking at diversification, the main future for its intellectual and physical assets lies in cooperative (and funded) space programs with the West.
As the team left the institute, members were taken through the hall of history, which displayed some very early photographs, records, and artifacts of Russian/Soviet aeronautical, rocket, and space pioneers.
The visit to Energia was very interesting, but it made no contribution to WTEC's requirements. While Energia had received a set of WTEC's technical questions, agency representatives did not directly address them at the meeting. They did promise to send answers to the team in Moscow before the end of the week. Additional information from Energia was relayed several months later via Intershelf, as noted above in Mr. Brancart's site report. This consisted of some corrections to Tables 3.4 through 3.6, with the some additional information on Energia's activities in ROV development and ocean floor mining.