Late last year, the Russian Federal Space Agency (RosCosmos) announced its plans to begin work on the design and construction phases of a new, nuclear-powered spacecraft. This type of project is not new, but the Russian government apparently has taken things seriously. It has just alloted about 430 million rubles ($14.4 million) for this line of research. Admittedly, this isn't much, but it's a start, and authorities in Moscow say that they will continue to support such endeavors. The money went to RosCosmos, and to the RosAtom state nuclear corporation.
Anatoly Perminov, the RosCosmos chief, said in December 2009 that Russia would pursue a nuclear engine for spacecraft in 2010. He revealed at the time that this line of research was promising because it could provide experts with the means of constructing ships that were able to go to Mars, and beyond, without constructors having to sacrifice a lot of space for conventional space fuels. Indeed, the more space is available on a spaceship, the more room planners have to insert in living quarters, or to load additional scientific and survival equipment. This is very important when considering that a two-way trip to Mars is estimated to last for about 1.5 to two years.
The official now announces that the early drafts for such a spacecraft are scheduled to be completed by 2012. He believes that the innovation is required if Russia is to maintain a competitive edge in the international space race, which is already seeing the United States developing Project Constellation, and China working hard to build a space station, and go to the Moon. The program RosCosmos and RosAtom are involved in is concerned with developing Megawatt-class nuclear space power systems (MCNSPS), specifically designed for use on manned, long-term missions.
After 2012, plans are to secure more funding over the next nine years. After this time frame, Perminov believes, the country could boast its first nuclear-powered spacecraft. It is estimated that the government will have to pay a total of more than 17 billion rubles (over $580 million) for this project. At this point, the country is lagging behind the US, which are scheduled to roll out their new space-exploration craft by 2015. Project Constellation will consist of a lightweight rocket (ARES I), a heavy-lift delivery vehicle (ARES V), a manned space capsule (Orion), and a landing module (Altair).