MOSCOW, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Russia has started building a spacecraft for manned Lunar missions with the first test scheduled in 2015, the project developer said Thursday.
"The work has already started. The unmanned tests are scheduled in 2015, the first manned mission is planned in 2018," head of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building Gennady Raikunov told local media.
These spaceships are designed to land on and lift off from the Moon, work as space tug boats and service modules for other space vehicles, Raikunov said.
"(Russian federal space agency) Roscosmos has planned the creation of a new manned transportation system to conduct manned flights to the Moon, servicing the vehicles in space," he said.
Raikunov linked the Lunar program to the fate of Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS). Whether Russia will continue the ISS work after 2020 depends on the progress of the Lunar program.
"It is necessary to determine the main direction of manned cosmonautics development. Current strategy envisages focusing on the manned flights to the Moon, including the creation of a base on its surface," he said.
Last week, head of the Lavochkin Scientific and Production Corp. Victor Khartov said Russia must "return to the Moon in 2015 in a Soviet style, to prove everyone and ourselves that we remember all the Soviet Union could do" at the Farnborough air show in Britain.
The Russian space strategy until 2030 presented by Roscosmos regards the Moon missions as a step toward the manned flight to Mars.