Hypersonic Space Drone! Russia to Test New Staggeringly Cheap and Reusable Prototype
Now back to the subject of space and the future of Russian developments. One of the latter was revealed just today. That's how the first Russian space drone will look like: hypersonic speed, flies both in the atmosphere and space; among other functions, it can put space vehicles in orbit. However, one of the main features of this technology is that it is reusable. According to engineers, each drone will be able to withstand up to 50 flights and then return. Parachutes will provide for a safe landing. It is important that only Russian components, including engines, will be used for construction.
First models are to be tested in 4 years. At least 280 million rubles ($4.3 million) is needed to construct the vehicles. However, it is still only a concept, or, as the developers call it, a flying presenter, meaning a prototype of the future Russian reusable space vehicle but full-sized, nevertheless.
We will ask Ekaterina Grigorova what it is for and how it will work.
— Ekaterina, hello.
— Good evening.
— Is it really a breakthrough?
— The project is still in the development stage but there won't be any complete analogs, though many countries are doing research in this sphere.
According to the available information, the new drone will be able to fly at an altitude of up to 100 miles at a hypersonic speed of up to Mach 7 or put space vehicles in orbit of up to 310 miles. It will be equipped with a single liquid-fueled jet engine from the upper stage of Briz-M. A carrier aircraft will be used at the initial stage of the flight. It's for this reason that the drone will be reusable. When returning to Earth, the parachutes will open in the atmosphere in their turn. The first five flight tests are scheduled for 2023.
The USA attempted to make something similar: they launched a Pegasus missile from a plane in the air; but, first of all, they had to modify a jet airliner for that; secondly, Pegasus has three stages, though it's a light missile, meaning that it has three engines and is a quite large variant for that. The payload is only 1,250 lbs. One of the main advantages of the Russian space drone will be the fact that the existing aircraft will be used to launch the drone into the air.
The next chart shows the project of the tests of the so-called full-sized flying presenter. Here, MiG-31 is used as the carrier aircraft, meaning that almost any airfield can be used for the test flights. Experts are enthusiastic about this new idea, though they are sure that it will need serious investments.
Ivan Moiseyev, director of the Institute of Space Policy: «The drone itself is a breakthrough comparable to creating a new spacecraft. They just can't fit in the declared budget. It is enough to create a model, maybe even to launch it, to imitate the activity, I would say. In order to make a spacecraft, the budget is to be doubled».
Many countries have been developing hypersonic aircraft over the last years: not only the USA but also Britain, Germany, China, India, Japan. More than 40 test flights have been conducted since the beginning of the century. Some of the projects, including the Russian one, use the air launch. What is it for? The thing is that it makes the space launch cheaper. The higher the altitude, the lower the pressure: for example, the pressure is 100 times lower at an altitude of 20 miles, meaning it would take less fuel to reach the orbital velocity, in order to put the vehicle in orbit. The developers emphasize that a reusable space aircraft can fly in two environments at once: in the atmosphere and space. The prototype will test the technology in the height corridor between 12 and 37 miles. It's a serious challenge. Almost no one flies in the near space for now. The thin air devaluates the advantage of a plane's wing and there were no other technologies for the exploration of this area until now.
By the way, the Soviet experience has also been involved in creating the new reusable aircraft. As part of the Buran program, experimental unmanned vehicles BOR were launched. Even a full-scale model of this spacecraft was made to conduct 24 flights at a height of up to 3 miles. Well, let's wait for the first tests.
— Thank you. Ekaterina Grigorova has reported on the Russian space drone.