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Russia's next manned rocket
A sneak peek at the secretive prime candidate to replace Soyuz rocket as a launcher of humans into space
Above: A manned version of the Angara-5 rocket unveiled in August 2013. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak
Previous chapter: Angara project
When the Angara family of rockets was originally proposed in the 1990s, it was advertised purely as a launcher of unmanned military and commercial satellites, which previously relied on Proton vehicles. However, as the project had finally started moving forward in the second half of 2000s, its scope widened to include possible manned missions as well.
After entertaining the ideas of launching a 12-13-ton three-seat piloted spacecraft on the Angara-3-based rocket (alternatively known as A3M, 3P or 3.2), engineers switched to a more powerful Angara-5 version around summer of 2007. Simultaneously, the operational pressure and the thrust of the rocket's RD-191 engines was to be reduced to a more explosion-proof level to increase the safety for the crew. Moreover, a manned ship with an estimated mass of around 20.8 tons carrying a crew from six to four people could now be inserted into the low Earth orbit.
In 2008, GKNPTs Khrunichev, a Moscow-based developer of the Angara family, unveiled a scaled model of a two-stage, 712-ton booster designated Angara-5P, where "P" stood for "piloted" or "manned." Somewhat surprisingly, the company said at the time that the vehicle would be based at a near-polar circle launch site in Plesetsk, which had never hosted manned missions. Moreover, the paperwork also claimed that rocket could carry piloted and cargo ships to escape Earth orbit on their way into deep space.
The Angara's role as a carrier of manned spacecraft finally become official, after funding foes had killed the development of the competing Rus-M rocket in 2011. By that time, the Russian government had already launched the construction of a new cosmodrome in the Russian Far East and the Angara-5 rocket was promised a launch pad there.
Under Roskosmos' tender announced in July 2012 under code name Amur (after a great Siberian river), the Angara-5 rocket would be customized to fly from Vostochny, carrying a 20-ton new-generation PTK NP spacecraft into the low Earth orbit. The first phase in the development of the Amur project would run until the end of May 2013, Roskosmos said.
Given the fact, that any deep-space exploration missions might not take place until 2030s, Angara-5P could be the main carrier of Russian manned spacecraft during most of the 2020s. Moreover, GKNPTs Khrunichev proposed deep-space mission scenarios, where the manned vehicles would still be launched on Angara-5P and dock in the low Earth orbit with large space tugs delivered by super-heavy rockets.
In the meantime, the design of the Angara-5P rocket went through a number of incarnations as evidenced by scaled models appearing at various shows. By 2011, the rocket "lost" its upper stage, which had previously been mounted on top of a five-booster cluster, emulating the design of a basic unmanned Angara-5. Instead, on the manned version, the central core booster with 127.5 tons of propellant would now act as a second stage, after four first-stage boosters had exhausted their total of 510.6 tons of propellant.
According to known specifications of a two-stage Angara rocket, its spent strap-on boosters would impact the ground 1,300 kilometers from the launch site. The payload fairing would be dropped 1,440 kilometers downrange. Apparently, in an effort to "man-rate" a two-stage Angara, Khrunichev considered throttling down RD-191 engines to a lower but safer thrust of 185 tons. As a result, just five engines with single combustion chambers would be required to deliver at least 18 tons of payload into orbit! For comparison, the Soyuz rockets launching 7-ton spacecraft use six four-chamber engines with a total of 24 combustion chambers!
The Angara-5 P rocket could still have an ability to lift off and fly to a safe distance from its launch facility even when one of its five engines fails during launch.
Launched by a two-stage Angara, the manned spacecraft would probably use its own engines to enter an initial parking orbit and then maneuver itself to a space station, to rendezvous with a space tug or to conduct an autonomous orbital flight.
The latest configuration of Angara-5P was unveiled at the Moscow air show, MAKS-2013, unfortunately without any official specifications. Apparent changes in the design of the rocket were seemingly limited to the payload section. The protective fairing became wider, fully covering a manned spacecraft with a re-designed emergency escape rocket. However the status of the project and the flight profile of the proposed vehicle remained largely a mystery, as of the second half of 2013.
In May 2014, the Director General of the TsNIIMash research institute Aleksandr Milkovsky, said that the new development schedule for the PTK NP spacecraft postponed the beginning of the flight tests from 2018 to 2021. However, according to Milkovsky, the testing will start with the lunar version of the spacecraft, rather than its Earth-orbiting variant. At the same time, Milkovsky said that the flight tests would be conducted with the help of a new heavy vehicle, which would replace Proton, obviously referring to Angara-5P. (711)
Read about many other space developments in Russia
Known specifications of the Angara-5P rocket (a.k.a. Angara-5.2 or A5.2):
Known capabilities of a two-stage version of the Angara-A5 rocket:
*In case of throttling down of strap-on boosters to 185 tons, a payload is reduced to 18,906 kilograms
Story, illustrations and photography by Anatoly Zak
Last update: January 2, 2015
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The very first scale model of the Angara-5P rocket that was publicly unveiled in 2008. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
Manned spacecraft and cargo supply vehicles proposed for launch on Angara rockets circa 2007. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
An Angara-5 launcher and its manned version (right) as seen at Moscow air show in 2011. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak
An Angara-5 launcher and its manned version (right) as presented at Moscow air show in 2013. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak
A circa 2012 two-launch lunar orbit mission scenario using an Angara-5P rocket. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev