The St. Petersburg design bureau Arsenal has been awarded a contract by the Russian space agency ROSCOSMOS for a preliminary design of nuclear spacecraft Nucleon for travel to the Moon, Jupiter and Venus. The Russian officials have been on record before stating this spacecraft will be sort of a tug which can autonomously generate electricity. As per the contract which is available on Russia’s official central tendering website ‘zakupki’, the contract worth 4.2 billion Rubles was signed on December 10 and was for the “development of a preliminary design for the creation of a space system with a nuclear-based transport and energy module (TEM).” TEM is a transportation energy module with nuclear electric propulsion of a megawatt class. The contract work is tasked to be completed by July 28, 2024.
While the information on TEM was available prior to 2018, some details of the spacecraft were released this year at the Korolev Academic Space Conference in Moscow where the Roscosmos first deputy director Yuri Urlichich said that the spacecraft is expected to undergo flight testing in 2030. In July, the Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin had said that the nuclear propulsion system would allow heavy cargo ships to travel to the furthest reaches of the Solar system and even further. TEM’s ground cooling tests were over in 2018 and testing in space is the next step.
As per the 2012 draft on ‘Strategy of Development of Space-Related Activities to 2030’, Roscosmos plans to have a human flight to the Moon by 2030, including landing on its surface and to send probes to Venus and Jupiter. The reusable space tug was mentioned in the final document. This is in addition to the removal of the international space station from the orbit by 2020 and the deployment of research stations on Mars along with foreign partners.