Roscomos, Russia's space agency, announced plans earlier this year to send 12 cosmonauts to a permanent colony on the moon. Russia's plans include research and mining of precious minerals, and there is speculation their lunar mission may also have a military angle.
In the early phases, the lunar base will be populated with 2 to 4 cosmonauts, with plans to send up to 12 in the future, according to Olga Zharova of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building.
Russia's news agency TASS reports building of the Luna 25 lander is already underway, as is the Angara-A5V heavy lift carrier rocket, which will be utilized to send parts to lunar base. The Angara-A5V is constructed of composites designed specifically for the lunar mission. Roscosmos indicates they intend to launch a lunar probe in 2024 to determine a location for their base, and will land their first cosmonauts on the moon in 2030.
The base will feature an underground fallout shelter designed to shield the cosmonauts from radiation and nuclear attack. Power to the base will be provided by an energy station located beneath the surface near one of the moon's poles.
Russia plans to launch the Angara rocket six times, sending required modules for the base. It is anticipated that it will take ten years to complete building of the lunar base.
Vladimir Solntsev says his company, RSC Energia, has designed, as part of the Ryvok Project, an 11.4 ton reusable spacecraft that can carry cargo and cosmonauts to the moon in just 5 days. It will be powered by an accelerator block that will be deployed under the moon's surface. Solntsev states, "Russia develops a new-generation advanced transportation spacecraft, in the nearest future development of other elements of the lunar program will also begin."
This will be Russia's first attempt at landing a man on the moon, however, the country has sent a number of unmanned probes to the moon's surface. While the United States was the first to send a man to the moon, interest has waned in recent years, and President Obama directed NASA's efforts toward Rosetta Philae's comet landing. Some see Russia's ambitious lunar program as progressing ahead of the U.S., which in 2010 scrapped a planned return to the moon. Russia's plans may spark a renewed interest in establishing a U.S. moon base, as America reassesses the value of untapped minerals and other resources available on the lunar surface.
Europe has signaled their space agency has an interest in combining efforts with Russia to colonize the moon, and has begun working with Roscosmos to send a lander in search of water on the moon's south pole, which may be critical for future manned colonies.
Professor Igor Mitrofanov, a leading scientist with the Space Research Institute of Moscow identifies further exploration of the moon as vital to the future, stating, "The 21st Century will be the century when it will be the permanent outpost of human civilization, and our country has to participate in this process."