Sunday, September 4, 2011

Future of Outer Space Exploration: Part 2

In part 1 I talked only about the United States, in part 2 I am going to focus on other countries. The countries that will be profiled are Russia, the European Space Agency, China, and Japan.
Currently Russia is the only country that participated in the ISS program operating manned spacecraft, Soyuz, which was developed by the former Soviet Union to take men to the moon. First tested in 1966 the Soyuz spacecraft has operated 110 flights over the last 45 years. The current Soyuz-TMA has been improved and modified many time since the original Soyuz A. On top of the Soyuz the Russians also operate the Progress unmanned cargo spacecraft. For all intents and purposes it is a modified Soyuz that is designed to get carry cargo and burn up in the atmosphere during reentry. Currently Russia is working on developing a new manned spacecraft, Rus, that would replace the Soyuz. A design has not yet been decided on, but when one is it will probably 3-4 years before a manned version is ready to launch.
European Space Agency:
The ESA is made up of 19 European countries and Canada and mainly focuses on satellite launches with their Ariane 5 rocket. The ESA has also launch two Automated Transfer Vehicles which are similar to the Progress but three times larger. Three more launches are planned at 17 month intervals. As for manned spacecraft the ESA is looking info modifying the ATV to handle a crew three for ISS crew missions and potentially a mission to Mars.
Japan's only spacecraft is the unmanned H-II Tranfer Vehicle which has been launched twice in the last three years. The HTV is used to resupply Japan's Kibo modules on the ISS. Kibo is made up of three modules and makes Japan's contribution the third largest after the United States and Russia. Japan has made no progress when it comes to manned space flight but they hope to have a lunar mission ready to fly by 2020.
China is currently operating manned and unmanned spacecraft. The manned spacecraft Shenzhou has launch 7 total mission with three of them being manned. More missions are planned including docking Tiangong 1 space station which should launch sometime soon. Two larger space stations are also planned as is a lunar mission by the end of decade.

It may look like a lot of countries space programs especially China are moving ahead of the United States now that the Space Shuttles are retired. What I think is happening is that all of the Space Agencies are going through the same trial and tribulations that we went through during the space race of the 1960s. Our space program has been flying for almost 50 years and has developed more types of spacecraft than anybody including the only reusable spacecraft ever. There is no real need to worry because we are closer to having craft ready to go the moon than anybody.

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