Russia Wants Nuclear-Powered Spaceships and Space Debris Shields

Russia has begun some ambitious space projects, including a new system to protect spacecraft from space junk and a nuclear-powered engine for future spaceships, according to Russian news reports.

The space debris protection system is designed to safeguard future outposts on the moon and Mars, officials at Russia's Central Research Institute of Machine Building said, the Russian Ria Novosti newspaper has reported.

"Protection of spacecraft modules against micrometeorite impact and space debris, based on the use of protective screens, that is passive protection, is at the limit of its technical capability due to weight restrictions," the institute's experts said. "This is why we need to develop new protection based on self-sealing systems capable of independently and quickly restoring the object's air-tightness in case of leaks." [Most Memorable Space Debris Events]

Space junk is such a risk that Russia is also reportedly developing a $2 billion spacecraft that would sweep the orbital space around Earth from satellite debris, according to China's state-run Xinhua news service and Russia's Interfax news agency.

"The corporation promised to clean up the space in ten years by collecting about 600 defunct satellites on the same geosynchronous orbit and sinking them into the ocean subsequently," said Victor Sinyavsky from RSC Energia, Xinhua quoted from an Interfax report.

Another project to develop nuclear-powered spaceships will also be a complex undertaking.

Officials from Russia's main space contractor, RSC Energia, said on Tuesday the company is planning to start working on space modules with nuclear-powered propulsion systems next year, and the first launches of such modules could come in 2020, according to Ria Novosti.

Anatoly Perminov, director of Russia's Federal Space Agency Roscosmos has said the development of nuclear-powered manned spacecraft is crucial if Russia wants to maintain a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the moon and Mars.

Such an effort will likely cost 17 billion rubles (more than $580 million in U.S. currency), Ria Novosti reported.

Russia is also reportedly targeting a moon- or Mars-based nuclear power station, according to the newspaper. That station could operate for 10 to 15 years, Russian space officials said.