The Dubious Future of Russia’s Proposed Orbital Station

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 105

(Source: TASS)

Executive Summary:

  • Key Roscosmos executives have signed and approved a schedule for the deployment of a new Russian orbital station, ROS, which is planned to be deployed by the early 2030s.
  • Complications abound in achieving these lofty expectations, as growing shortages in human, scientific, technological, industrial, and financial resources render the proposed schedule all but impossible.
  • These mounting problems may lead to an indefinite pause in Russia’s manned space program and look to put at least a temporary end to Russian cosmonauts’ decades-long presence in outer space.

On July 2, Yuri Borisov, head of the Russian state-owned space corporation Roscosmos, together with 19 top managers of Roscosmos’ key subsidiaries signed the schedule of deployment for the new Russian orbital station, ROS, in 2027–2033 (, July 2;, July 3). The station is planned to play the role of an orbital research laboratory; provide observation of Russian territory, especially its Arctic regions; and be a part of the Russian military space program. The ROS will ostensibly carry out these tasks without a permanent crew. The key problem, however, is that the ROS project is looking more like a “basket of wishes” today rather than a real project with substantive technical and financial planning. This is largely the result of Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has exacerbated budgetary, production, and personnel issues throughout the economy (see EDM, April 29, May 30, June 27).

Generally speaking, Roscosmos has tried to save the Russian manned space program despite growing shortages in human, scientific, technological, industrial, and financial resources. Consequently, the most optimistic scenario for Russia is the orbiting of a small station with one big module and node as well as docking modules by the early 2030s. Such a station would be similar to the Soviet Salyut-6 and Salyut-7 stations of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The more realistic scenario, nevertheless, is that Russia will face at least a temporary break in its manned space program after the end of the International Space Station (ISS) era (see EDM, February 23, April 15, May 6).

Roscosmos and Borisov’s presentation in the State Duma stipulate that the station will consist of four big modules with about 92 cubic meters of pressurized volume in each, one node module, and one docking module that will be sent into orbit sometime in 2027–2033. The planned cost of the project is about 609 billion rubles ($6.7 billion according to the average exchange rate of 2024). Besides the modules themselves, the ROS project includes development of new manned spacecraft, specifically an upgrade of the Angara-A5 launch vehicle and ground-based infrastructure. The planned specifications of the orbital station include an interim pressurized volume of 387 cubic meters, two times bigger than the Russian segment of the ISS. Its available electrical power would be up to 54 kilowatts, 18 times more power than the Russian segment of the ISS and comparable to other ISS segments. One potential complication is that the station will not be manned by a permanent crew. Two to four Russian cosmonauts will visit the ROS only twice a year (, July 2;, July 3).

The only orbital module that is being manufactured in Russia today is the Science and Power Module, or NEM. The production of this module began in the early 2010s and was originally planned to be the last module of the Russian ISS segment. It is the first Russian module that does not use a Soviet-era pressurized body. The plan to dock this module at the ISS was canceled after years of delays, and the NEM was re-scheduled as the first ROS module. As a result, the unfinished module has to be re-designed. For example, no onboard lavatories were included in the original design and other systems were specifically designed for compatibility with the ISS (, April 26, 2021). While three other big ROS modules, a base module and two purpose modules, could be derived from NEM, the current status of its re-designing and manufacturing remains unclear. That means the other modules are far from the design and production phase.

Additionally, the planned cost of the ROS is almost certainly larger than the original estimate of 609 billion rubles ($6.7 billion). For comparison, the cost of the US Habitation and Logistics Outpost module for the Gateway station is $935 million, and this module is based on available and well-developed technologies. The cost of China’s Tiangong orbital station exceeds $8 billion. That means the ROS will likely need hundreds of billions of rubles in addition to what was already planned today. Considering that total Russian spending on the civilian space program in 2024 is planned for 138 billion rubles ($1.59 billion) and this amount includes the Russian ISS segment and remaining space scientific activity, Russia will need to increase its space budget significantly. Moreover, Roscosmos will need more engineers and workers as the almost 180,000 existing employees and their labor productivity at the level of 2.3 million rubles ($27,000) per worker a year allows the Kremlin to barely maintain current space activity (, July 9, 2021;, November 29, 2022;, accessed July 11, 2024;, July 3).

The presented schedule and financial planning are based only on the draft design of ROS, which was finished in April. That means that the next phase is a technical project, which will be more detailed and more complicated. Borisov likely understands all the risks and obstacles involved here. This might explain why he forced all key Roscosmos managers to publicly undersign the ROS project and consequently share the political responsibility for any future failures (Interfax, April 2;, July 2). Overall, it would be a highly optimistic scenario if Russia were able to complete and orbit even the NEM by the early 2030s.

Interestingly, a much more critical and realistic view on Roscosmos’ plans was presented in the State Duma by long-term member and former Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya. She publicly warned that Russia may be left without a manned program for an indefinite period after the end of the ISS era. Another former cosmonaut Fedor Yurchikhin expressed similar skepticism toward the future of the Russian manned space program earlier this year. Thus, the end of the ISS may become at least a temporary end of Russian cosmonauts’ decades-long presence in outer space (, March 20;, July 3).