Russia is planning to build an observatory on the moon capable of tracking Earth-threatening asteroids, according to reports.

The observatory forms part of an ambitious lunar base that the state hopes to build on the southern pole of the Moon that will be powered with nuclear energy, officials say.

Russia's space agency - Roscosmos - says it hopes to build a permanent base on the Moon that will serve as part of "global system for tracking asteroid and comet threats".

"The location selected for the base is southern pole of the moon. It has favourable relief and conditions: enough light for solar panels, constantly shadowed craters with ice reserves for fuel and raw material," Aleksandr Bloshenko, chief executive for science and advanced projects, explained.

Bloshenko added that Russia does not expect to see any commercial return on the space venture, but that the project will bring scientific value and become and important instrument in defending earth from asteroids.

Roscosmos officials say there will be scientific value not only from studying the Earth satellite itself, but also deep space.

The agency hopes that once the base and observatory is fully functioning, it will - together with spacecraft placed in Sun-Earth Lagrange points - give humanity earlier warnings about dangerous asteroids hurtling towards Earth.

In addition, Roscosmos officials say that the base will also act as a safe place to test technologies for further space exploration like small-scale nuclear reactors that Russia is currently developing at fast pace, or robotics.

In fact, robots are supposed to be the permanent crew of the outpost, while humans are to come and go "to do the tasks that the robots are incapable of doing".

Russia recently flew a remotely-controlled robot to the International Space Station (ISS).
Bloshenko says Skybot F-850, also known as FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) is obviously an early attempt and not a preview for how the inhabitants of the future base will look like.

"We have more or less chosen the platform for the future planetary robotic systems. It will be a wheeled walking cart that can either roll on wheels or step over obstacles," he added.

"Another conceptual design is a centaur-like robot on a walking cart for non-trivial planetary tasks".

The agency says it is currently assessing how much it wants to develop the ISS, as opposed to focusing on the race to the moon, its head Dmitry Rogozin said this week.

In fact two of the modules it is planning to add to the orbital station may be repurposed for a lunar project, he said.

"The life expectancy of the ISS is clear, its 2028, and the modules are good to last for 15 to 20 years. Is it worth sending them for three to four years and later sink it with the entire station? I am not so certain," he explained.

Rogozin was referring to the science and energy NEM module and the nodal docking module Prichal, which are planned for launch in the early 2020s.
Source: Daily Star
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