Andrei Savenkov - European countries are unlikely to completely stop using Russian Soyuz spacecraft for manned flights since options for transportation to outer space should be diversified, Prof. Dr Hansjoerg Dittus, the German Aerospace Center's (DLR) executive board member for space research and technology, said.
"If ... [capabilities] would exist in the future that NASA will fly again their own spacecraft, then the first choice would be to fly with them as well. Nevertheless, it's not the case so far. Presently, we are still based, whatever we do in space, on the transport capabilities here in Russia, and I cannot imagine that this will be given up completely in the future. We always need alternatives; we always need backups in case things cannot work," Dittus said.
The global community will only benefit from the existence of two systems of manned spaceflights if the United States succeeds in reviving its space shuttle program, the executive noted.
"When we had this accident with Soyuz last year, it was an open question [of] when we can bring down our astronauts. So they had to stay longer in orbit. And if this can be avoided, you always need two independent systems, so I would say it's an enrichment of the capabilities if Americans fly to space with astronauts again in the next years," Dittus added.
NASA has paid Russia for seats on Soyuz spacecraft since the US Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. In 2014, NASA gave contracts to Boeing and Space X, in total worth $6.8 billion, to develop crew transportation systems and carry out a number of missions to the orbiting laboratory under its Commercial Crew Program. However, both space shuttles have yet to be certified as safe for human spaceflight. Initially, the US contractors were set to obtain certification in 2017, but now neither is expected to be ready until late 2019 at the earliest. NASA's budget for 2019 is $21.5 billion, but the White House has proposed raising this figure to $22.6 billion next year. The suggestion was released following US President Donald Trump's directive to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024.
China, another nation that has ambitious plans for space exploration, with its sights set on Mars and beyond, reportedly has a corresponding budget totalling some $8 billion.
On EU Space Budget
Commenting on the issue of the EU space budget, Dittus said that it should be increased in order to further advance the continent's exploration of outer space. Germany is a member of the European Space Agency, whose annual budget amounts to over $6 billion.
"There is no doubt that the budgets are small. That's for sure. The European budget for space is much much smaller than all budgets here in Russia or, of course, in the United States. A society like Europe should have more money for these kind activities because we need them," Dittus said.
He noted that people were thinking about defence strategies and about what they liked to do in space.
"But this, of course, is a process that Europe will undergo in the upcoming years, and, together with our European partners, it has to be decided. Nevertheless, budgets must go up to realize all the nice plans we have," Dittus concluded.
European astronauts currently travel to the International Space Station (ISS) on Soyuz spacecraft under US quotas, taking the place of US astronauts in accordance with an agreement between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. The European astronauts will switch to flying on the US spacecraft in the coming years as the United States is set to resume use of own space shuttles. However, ESA may go back to flying on Soyuz if a good barter deal is reached with Russia as well, as the space agency's director-general, Jan Woerner, said.
On Russia's Luna-28 Mission
The German Aerospace Center (DLR), which acts as the national space agency, said that it was considering the option of taking part in Russian Luna-28 mission, which aims to deliver samples of lunar soil to Earth.
In January, Director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Lev Zelenyi said that the delivery of frozen samples of lunar soil to Earth the Luna-28 automatic interplanetary spacecraft (Luna-Grunt rover) is scheduled for around 2027.
"Russia for us is a partner in space. Our astronauts are going up to the International Space Station on Soyuz rockets. We have recently launched an X-ray telescope together with [Russian space agency] Roscosmos. We have ongoing activities, hopefully in the future, in lunar exploration ... For example, yesterday and today, we had a discussion with our Russian partners on the participation [of Germany] in the Russian lunar program. European Space Agency (ESA) does it as well, but then we help ESA, but we do it independently on that, with our own capabilities," Prof. Dr. Hansjoerg Dittus, DLR's executive board member for space research and technology, said.
The German space agency may provide technologies for the upcoming lunar mission, the executive noted.
"We had been asked whether we would be willing to step into the Lunar program. And it is an interesting program, to be honest. This is a consistent program, and we will see how we can bring in our technology, maybe starting the second half of the 2020s, 2025 when projects like Lunar-28 become realized. We have plans to bring our technology up the Moon with our Russian partners," Dittus said.
Moreover, Germany and Russia may start a student exchange program for space sciences, the DLR official noted.
"Presently, we are discussing also the question of maybe exchanging people with the universities. This is always important that we have an exchange ... We have our university partners here, for example, Bauman [Technical University], Moscow Aviation Institute, Lomonosov Moscow State University," Dittus added.
Roscosmos said earlier in the month that it was discussing the possibility for German specialists to participate in the Luna-28 mission.