In May, reports emerged that Russia was tentatively planning to start flight-testing a nuclear space tug, called Zeus, by 2030, with a view to eventually sending it to Mars.
Now, as SputnikNews reports, a subsidiary of Russia's Roscosmos space agency called Arsenal Design Bureau, has proposed a nuclear power plant project for a future Russian Mars base.
The project proposal suggests using technologies developed for the Zeus project to build a nuclear reactor on Mars.
Martian nuclear power plant idea born of $56.5 million design contract
Russia has been working on the idea of a nuclear-powered spacecraft since 2010, SputnikNews writes. A concept for the space tug was unveiled in 2019 at the MAKS International Aviation and Space Show outside of Moscow.
Last December came the announcement of a $56.5 million contract with the Arsenal Design Bureau for experimental design work for the Zeus space tug.
Now, the new proposal states that a reactor could be delivered to Mars aboard the Zeus space tug, where it would enter the red planet's surface and then land using a parachute system. Once activated, it could provide power to a Russian Mars base that would act as a habitat for future human explorers.
Just last month, Roscosmos Chief Dmitry Rogozin said that the Zeus tug could also be sent to other planets, including Venus, and that it may even aid in the search for alien life by traveling beyond our solar system.
A new space race between Russia, the US, and China
Despite relatively low funding for Roscosmos from the Russian government in 2020 — it spent $3.58 billion on the agency compared with $47.69 billion spent by the US — the Russian agency has a series of ambitious plans in the works that will align it more closely with China's space goals, and distance it from the United States.
In April, the Russian space agency announced that it hopes to launch its own orbital space station as early as 2025. With international agreements for the operation of the Internation Space Station set to expire by 2024, the move signals the end of an unprecedented era in global scientific collaboration.
China, which has spent $8.85 billion on its space agency has more recently become a large player in the international space industry. The agency, which recently released images taken by its Mars Zhurong rover, recently announced a collaboration with Russia to build an orbital lunar space station. That sets the two country's as direct rivals for NASA's Lunar Gateway program, which aims to build a lunar outpost by 2024.