Nothing Is More Important than Cleaning Up the Space

13 December 2019

Nothing Is More Important than Cleaning Up the Space

Not many of the leading scientists, under whose guidance projects will be implemented on mega-grants of the "seventh wave", are constantly working in Russia. And a very unusual situation is when a professor at a regional university becomes the head of a laboratory at a Moscow university. Under such conditions the mega-grant was won by Head of the Department of Theoretical Mechanics of Samara University, Professor Vladimir Aslanov, and Moscow Aviation Institute (National Research University). Professor Aslanov told about the tasks of their joint project called “Space Flight Mechanics” and about what missions are really necessary outside the Earth. 

- Vladimir Stepanovich, tell us about your participation in the competition of mega-grants. How was the procedure organized, was it harder to prepare an application than for smaller grants in the Russian Science Foundation?

- No, in general, all requirements for grant applications have already become canonical, and there are no terrible bureaucratic obstacles in the competition for mega-grants. The competition was announced in advance, so we had several months to prepare. It is important to have achievements, and it is not difficult to show them on paper.

This is a common victory for our university and Moscow Aviation Institute. I must say that I was not the initiator of this project, but received an offer from Moscow Aviation Institute, from Academician Garry Popov, which was pleasantly surprised. Indeed, in the early years, the mega-grant program was a measure rather for attracting leading foreign scientists to work with us and leave their scientific schools. But for an active researcher it is very difficult to break away from his base, from his laboratory, from his students for six months. So now the term in the mega-grant organization for foreign scientists has been reduced to four months, and Russian scientists have begun to participate in the competition. But although domestic scientific schools have already been able to adapt to world requirements, among 36 winners of this year, only three work in Russia. And not many mega-grants have won technical science projects. So it is very valuable that the government appreciated our achievements. 

- What are the goals of your project?

-Like any scientific project, it is to create new knowledge in an advanced field and leave behind a scientific school. Mega-grant financing will end in three years, and after that the school should remain, a trace of the money invested. The essence of the project is to combine the efforts of our scientific schools. The school, which I lead in the department of theoretical mechanics, defines future space missions. Those missions that will be in demand in the near future, in five or ten years. These are not space elevators that can be realized in 100 years, but, for example, the use of the Coulomb interaction between two charged space objects. Let's assume, you want to remove a passive satellite from orbit. To do this, the active satellite remotely transfers charge to it using an electron or ion gun. At the same time, the charge on it is the same in sign, and due to the interaction of charges the active satellite can move the passive one. In this area, I have collaborated with Professor Hanspeter Schaub of the University of Colorado Boulder. And the direction that Academician Popov is developing at Moscow Aviation Institute is even more exotic; foreign scientific schools have no developments in this area. We are talking about the impact of one satellite on another by electrojet current due to electric propulsion motor of low thrust. We will develop this task together during the project.

- How will the project work be organized? And in which applications can the system you are developing be used?

- I will lead a MAI scientific laboratory on the mechanics of space flight, and a school on the mechanics of spacecraft flight with low thrust will be developed there. I will not only transfer my experience and knowledge, but I will also learn from my Moscow colleagues. In addition to Garry Alekseevich Popov, Moscow Aviation Institute has an excellent scientist, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vyacheslav Petukhov, professor Mikhail Konstantinov, an outstanding scientist in the field of ballistics. There are many world-famous scientists, and with them we will join forces. Financing will begin this year, in just three years 90 million rubles will be allocated.

There can be a lot of applications for laboratory developments, but in all topics electric propulsion engines will run through the red thread, the development of which is being carried out by the Research Institute of Applied Mechanics and Electrodynamics under the guidance of Academician Popov. For example, now the problem of cleaning up the space from debris is even more acute than the task of preserving the ecology of the Earth. In fact, near-Earth space is very fragile matter, we can lose the ability to use it in a matter of seconds. Therefore, the issue of preserving the space - not in the sense of romance "Gagarin flew", but that space without which we cannot live today - is acute and urgent. Now in orbit there are about 20 thousand large pieces of space debris larger than ten cm. Only the collision of the Cosmos and Iridium communication satellites in 2009 added about two thousand large fragments and about 80 thousand small ones. The area where this happened is forever lost for the flights of such devices. And one of the directions of future missions is the removal of space debris from orbits. From low orbits, where about 2500 tons of space debris is concentrated, it must be delivered to the border of the atmosphere; from the geostationary orbit, where about the same amount has been accumulated, to take garbage 200 km higher into the burial orbit. This is only one area. In the same way, we can apply our developments to launch new satellites into the calculated orbits, if for some reason they have not reached the calculated orbits, and for many other applications.

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