No spectacular base, but highly automated manned exploration – Russian vision of first Lunar mission

Roscosmos is still considering Moon as important point in their plan of gradual increasing scale of their space program; after decades of delay and intense exploration of Low Earth Orbit, Moon regained his place in future plans of space exploration - first mission of Russian cosmonauts will be preceded by robotic exploration to provide conditions for at least one week mission on Moon surface.

It seems that plans of establishing Lunar base by Roscosmos are not so fantastic as it could be considered. After announcement of starting development of the  project of Lunar base by Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash), it was sure, that this plan is not possible to be conducted in following decade or maybe even in 2030s. On June 2016, when first news about Russian base on the Moon leaked to media, we had not even confirmed date for first flight of Russian cosmonauts around Moon, not to mention about landing or establishing any kind of habitable structures. But it seems, that Russian RCC Energia Company and some other specialists from research centers in Russia are predicting, that Moon exploration based on using some kind of small outpost should be considered as most appropriate form for first successful Moon mission by Roscosmos; and what is more important, they are predicting that it could be possible in 15 years timeframe.  For example Vladimir Solntsev chief of Energia, claims (according to Roscosmos), that manned mission to the Moon is still possible in the beginning of 2031. It is covering with  with date given by TsNIIMash in June 2016; Company then announced launching rocket with first habitable module to Moon in 2030s. According to TASS news agency also Head of the Space Gamma-Spectroscopy Laboratory at Russia’s Space Research Institute confirmed partially, that Russia is targeting with first lunar mission to remain on Moon longer than few days (it is worth to remind, that American manned missions to the Moon were not exceeding 3 days of stay on the surface). Doctor Igor Mitrofanov stated in the interview given to TASS, that place of landing for manned spacecraft should be located on one of the Lunar poles and will be prepared by autonomous machines send earlier. Such shelter would be created only with Lunar regolith. It would cover habitable module to protect it against micro asteroids and radiation. This concepts is almost identical as TsNIIMash project of lunar base, in spite of fact, that this outpost would serve for single mission, probably not longer than 2 weeks - it was not mentioned that module could be reusable. It is similar comparing to first phase of planned Lunar base by TsNIIMash: first habitable module was considered as autonomous module with 20 cubic meters of space suitable for up to four cosmonauts (it is worth to remind, that lunar version of Federation spacecraft is designed to take four crew members) and assumed further upgrade with additional modules. At the moment it is possible, that Roscosmos is really considering seriously sending cosmonauts to Moon for more than few days and provide them suitable conditions for exploring Moon, but State Corporation has not confirmed this news. Still it is bad idea to create shelter for cosmonauts using autonomous drones, but the first question should be if Russian industry is able to create such machines - powerful enough to perform tasks like regular machines from construction site independable enough to create shelter without any real time control from Earth. Second question should be is it economically justified to spend huge sum of money for Lunar outpost in case of using it once or twice, keeping in mind, that it would probably limit budget for other missions; still Moon is important, but probably Mars is ultimate goal for Roscosmos, and Moon still will remain secondary objective.