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Briz-M: Russia's workhorse space tug

First introduced in 1999, the Briz-M space tug replaced the veteran Block-D series as the fourth stage of Russia's workhorse Proton rocket in the 21st century. In 2016, Briz-M got its first opportunity to fly a deep-space mission aimed at sending the ExoMars-2016 spacecraft on a path to the Red Planet.

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General architecture of the Briz-M stage.

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Briz-M history

The Briz-M (breeze) stage derived from the smaller Briz-K and Briz-KM variants, which previously flew on the lightweight Rockot launcher. To match the capabilities of the larger Proton rockets, Briz-K was upgraded with a torus-shaped external propellant tank to form the 22.9-ton Briz-M under the industrial designation 14S43. In addition, all the avionics on the upgraded stage were re-designed to work in the vacuum of space, unlike the previous-generation systems on Briz-K, which required pressurized containers.

The full-scale development of the Briz-M started after its proposed design had been declared the winner in a tender which the Russian government conducted in 1993 and 1994 for the new upper stage of the Proton rocket. The project was funded by the Ministry of Defense for prospective military missions.

Moscow-based GKNPTs Khrunichev, which also built the Proton rocket, advertised such advantages of Briz-M as its very compact size and its capability to function in space for prolonged periods of time. Briz-M stood just 2.6 meters high, compared to the 6.5 meters of Proton's older upper stage Block D. As a result, the new stage would leave much more volume available for potential payloads onboard the launch vehicle. Briz-M's main engine was promised to be able to fire up to eight times during its mission, while the stage was to survive in orbit up to 24 hours. In combination with a cluster of smaller engines onboard, the stage could perform carefully choreographed maneuvers when delivering single or multiple payloads.

The design arm of GKNPTs Khrunichev -- KB Salyut -- completed the preliminary design for Briz-M in 1996. A year later, a set of blueprints for the first flight vehicle and for as many as 10 development prototypes of the stage was issued.

According to Khrunichev, the introduction of Briz-M would enable Proton to carry between 3.2 and 3.5 tons of payload directly into geostationary orbit (instead of previous 2.5 tons with Block D) or to deliver from 5.5 to more than 6 tons into geostationary transfer orbit. Proton/Briz-M combination could place around 15 tons into low Earth orbit, the company's documents said.

Briz-M was also designed to be compatible with the next-generation Angara family of launch vehicles including Angara-A3 and Angara-A5. During the 1990s, the stage was also proposed for the European Ariane-5 rocket, the Ukrainian-built Zenit and, even possibly, for the Russian Soyuz-2 launcher.

Briz-M's architecture

The Briz-M stage is composed of a central core and an auxiliary propellant tank. The external tank is depleted first during the flight, after which all its fuel and electric links to the core stage are severed with pyrotechnics, and springs push the empty tank away from the core stage along two guides. A special cone structure inside the external tank helps to distribute loads from the payload to the rest of the stage during the launch.

A special transfer ring with a diameter of 4.1 meters, also known as spacer, serves as an interface between the third stage of the Proton, its payload fairing and the external tank of Briz-M. The transfer ring remains on the third stage when it separates from Briz-M around nine minutes after launch.

Briz-M is powered by a pump-fed S5.98 (14D30) main engine developed at the Isaev KB Khimmash design bureau in Korolev, Russia. Capable of producing around 2 tons (20 kilonewtons) of thrust, the engine has a special gimbal suspension system, which allows it to steer the vehicle in flight under commands from an onboard computer. To protect the engine from the harsh environment of space during prolonged periods of unpowered flight, its exposed nozzle is closed with a special movable thermal cover.

In addition, Briz-M is equipped with four 11D458M settling thrusters, DKI, which are used to give the stage an initial acceleration, in order to cause the propellants to shift toward the bottom and thus ensure that the main engine has an uninterrupted flow of propellant at the time of its ignition. The same engines can also be used to fine tune the maneuvers performed by the main engine. Finally, the stage also sports 12 17D58E thrusters used for attitude control. All auxiliary thrusters are mounted in four clusters on the dome-shaped aft bulkhead of the core stage: one propellant settling thruster and two or four attitude-control thrusters in each cluster. The entire propulsion system burns a self-igniting mix of nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine.

Along with the engines, the dome-shaped aft bulkhead of the core stage is used to attach a pair of tanks containing helium for pressurization of the propellant tanks, as well as some pneumatic and hydraulic hardware. Two other ball-shaped high-pressure tanks on the aft bulkhead are used to store propellant components for the ignition of the main engine and for feeding orientation and stabilization thrusters, SOiS. Other components for pneumatic and hydraulic systems are located inside the propellant tanks. The "waist" of the core stage is enveloped in the lines of the thermal control system. The external tank has four helium pressurization vessels of its own.

The Briz-M's flight control system, developed at MOKB Mars, includes an on-board computer, a three-axis gyro stabilized platform, and a navigation system. Most of the space tug's avionics and its power batteries are housed in the unpressurized equipment section at the top. A series of antennas for telemetry transmission, trajectory tracking, and satellite navigation extend from the core stage.

A cone-shaped adapter for the spacecraft is attached to the top of the equipment section via a 2.49-meter ring. The payload then can be attached to an adapter with a special release mechanism which is designed to gently separate the satellite at the conclusion of its orbital insertion.

Upgrades

In the course of its operational life, various components of the Briz-M underwent upgrades. Phase IV upgrade of the Proton-M rocket inaugurated in June 2016, also marked the introduction of the new Pirit-RBs multi-functional radio-telemetry system employing a modular architecture. According to AO RKS, which developed Pirit-RBs, its mass was reduced to eight kilograms, compared to the previous 14-kilogram version, while relying on domestically built avionics. The five-unit system also used pocket telemetry principles compatible with the international standard CCSDS. Pirit-RBs also has a unique capability to simultaneously downlink real-time data and pre-recorded telemetry stored in its memory, AO RKS said.

Phase IV also saw the removal of two high-pressure tanks from the instrument compartment.

As of 2020, a total of five variations of the Briz-M were known for the Proton rocket and three variants were being developed for the Angara family.

Briz-M space tug gets new fueling system

fueling

At the end of 2019, Roskosmos began testing new mobile fueling hardware for the low-pressure propellant tanks of the Briz-M upper stage.

Developed at the KBTKhM design bureau, the new fueling hardware was delivered to Baikonur Cosmodrome and deployed at Briz-M's outdoor fueling site near Proton's 92A-50 processing facility, along with a mockup of the Briz-M stage. According to Roskosmos, tests with loading and draining of fuel were conducted from November 25 to November 29, 2019, and similar tests with oxidizer were started on December 2. The entire test program was scheduled to be completed by January 24, 2020.

Roskosmos said the new weight-based method for propellant dosage used by the new equipment provided better reliability and safety of fueling operations, but the State Corporation did not explain the need for a mobile element in Briz-M preparations.

One industry source familiar with the subject told RussianSpaceWeb.com that the old fueling equipment for Briz-M had also had mobile vehicles, which would bring propellant tanks to the Briz fueling area from their main base at the KAZ propellant production facility in Baikonur. With the latest upgrade, the fueling team received heavy duty Volvo trucks and other equipment which replaced the fueling hardware exceeding its service life. At the time, GKNPTs Khrunichev reportedly considered an option of flying the Briz-M space tug on the Angara-5 rocket based in Vostochny, even though until recently Roskosmos had only planned to use the Block DM-03 upper stage with the variant of the vehicle launched from the rocket's future new pad, the source said. If plans for Briz-M in Vostochny were approved, the new fueling equipment could be re-deployed at the new spaceport after the retirement of the Proton.

According to Roskosmos, the new fueling equipment would be operationally used in Baikonur for the first time during the preparation of the Proton/Briz-M rocket slated to launch Ekspress-80 and Ekspress-103 communications satellites in the first quarter of 2020.

 

Known specifications of Briz-M stage:

Liftoff mass
22.5 - 22.9 tons
Dry mass
2.39 - 2.665 tons
Total propellant mass
19.8 - 19.92 tons
Total oxidizer mass
13.26 tons
Total fuel mass
6.66 tons
Propellant mass in the core stage
5.2 tons
Propellant mass in the external tank
14.6 tons
Height
2.65 meters
Diameter
4.0 meters
Maximum number of engine firings during the mission
up to 8 (5 during a typical mission)
Maximum autonomous flight duration
up to 24 hours according to original technical assignment*
Propulsion system designation
S5.98M (14D30)
First launch
1999 June 5

*According to official specifications, onboard batteries provide 11 hours of operation

 

Briz development team:

GKNPTs Khrunichev (Moscow) Prime contractor and system integrator
KB Khimmash (Korolev) Propulsion system
MOKB Mars Inertial flight control system
NII KP (St. Petersburg) Gyroscopic stabilization platform
AO Radiophisika and RNII KP Telemetry systems
AO Savma Hardware

 

14D30 engine specifications:

Thrust in vacuum 2,000 kilograms (19.62 kN)
Specific impulse 328 seconds
A total firing duration 3,200 seconds
Number of ignitions in flight 8
Dry mass 95 kilograms
Dimensions 1,150 by 948 millimeters

Flight history

The Briz-M lifted off for the first time on June 5, 1999, but it never had a chance to fire during that mission due to the second-stage failure of its Proton-K rocket. The second attempt to test the stage was made on June 6, 2000, when the rocket successfully delivered the Gorizont-45 satellite into its planned orbit. On April 7, 2001, the Briz-M flew for the first time on the modified Proton-M rocket. Finally, at the end of 2002, the space tug was employed for the first time to deliver a commercial payload, which became its main job.

By mid 2000s, as its production expanded, Briz-M mainly replaced the Block DM upper stage on the Proton rocket. In 2008, KB Khimmash manufactured 10 engines for Briz.

By March 2016, Briz-M logged 91 flights, during which the stage failed or experienced serious technical problems seven times. This number includes seemingly anomalous performance of Briz-M during the first test launch of the Angara-5 rocket in December 2014, even though official Russian sources have not yet disclosed any problems during this flight.

Prior to the launch of the TGO orbiter and the Schiaparelli lander for the ExoMars-2016 mission in March 2016, Briz-M completed eight increasingly accurate satellite deliveries, demonstrating the maturity of its flight control and navigation systems.

New records in accuracy of engine duration burns and the orbital insertion parameters were reached by Briz-M on December 14, 2020, during the second test flight of the Angara-5 rocket. Experts credited a new algorithm in the pre-launch calibration of the gyroscopic instruments aboard Briz-M.

 

A complete list of Briz-M missions:

No. Launch date
Payload
Payload type
Launch vehicle
Launch site
Launch complex
Launch pad
Status
1
1999 June 18
Raduga (Gran)
Military / communications
Proton-K
24
Stage 2 failure
2
2000 June 6
Gorizont-45
Application / communications
Proton-K
24
Success
3
2001 April 7
Ekran M18
Application / communications
24
Success
4
2002 Dec. 30
Nimiq-2
Application / communications
24
Success
5
2003 June 7
AMC-9
Application / communications
39
Success
6
2003 Dec. 10
Kosmos-2402, -2403 and -2404 (Uragan)
Application / navigation
Proton-K
24
Briz-M delivered the satellites into an out-of-specifications orbit
7
2004 March 15
Eutelsat W3A
Application / communications
24
Success
8
2004 June 17
Intelsat 10-02
Application / communications
39
Success
9
2004 Aug. 5
Amazonas-1
Application / communications
39
Success
10
2004 Oct. 15
AMC-15 (GE-15)
Application / communications
39
Success
11
2005 Feb. 3
AMC-12
Application / communications
24
Success
12
2005 May 22
DirecTV-8
Application / communications
39
Success
13
2005 Sept. 9
Anik-F1R
Application / communications
39
Success
14
2005 Dec. 29
AMC-23/Worldsat-3
Application / communications
39
Success
15
2006 Feb. 28
Arabsat-4A
Application / communications
39
Briz-M failure
16
2006 Aug. 5
Hot Bird-8
Application / communications
39
Success
17
2006 Nov. 11
Arabsat-4B
Application / communications
39
Success
18
2006 Dec. 12
Measat-3
Application / communications
39
Success
19
2007 April 9
Anik F3
Application / communications
39
Success
20
2007 July 7
DirecTV-10
Application / communications
39
Success
21
2007 Sept. 5
Application / communications
39
Stage 1/Stage 2 separation failure
22
2007 Nov. 18
Sirius-4
Application / broadcasting
39
Success
23
2007 Dec. 9
Military / communication
24
Success
24
2008 Jan. 28
Application / communications
39
Success
25
2008 Feb. 11

Thor-5

Application / communications
39
Success
26
2008 March 15

AMC-14

Application / communications
39
Briz-M failure
27
2008 Aug. 19

Inmarsat-4 F3

Application / communications
39
Success
28
2008 Sept. 20

Nimiq-4

Application / communications
39
Success
29
2008 Nov. 6

Astra-1M

Application / communications
39
Success
30
2008 Dec. 10

Ciel-2

Application / communications
39
Success
31
2009 Feb. 11

Ekspress-AM44, Ekspress-MD1

Application / communications
39
Success
32
2009 April 3

Eutelsat W2A

Application / communications
39
Success
33
2009 May 16

ProtoStar-2

Application / communications
39
Success
34
2009 June 30

Sirius FM-5

Application / broadcasting
39
Success
35
2009 Aug. 12

AsiaSat-5

Application / communications
39
Success
36
2009 Sept. 17

Nimiq-5

Application / communications
39
Success
37
2009 Nov. 24

W7

Application / communications
39
Success
38
2009 Dec. 29
Direct TV 12
Application / communications
39
Success
39
2010 Jan. 28
24
Success
40
2010 Feb. 12

Intelsat-16

Application / communications
39
Success
41
2010 March 20

Echostar-14

Application / communications
39
Success
42
2010 April 24

SES-1

Application / communications
39
Success
43
2010 June 4
BADR-5
Application / communications
39
Success
44
2010 July 11
EchoStar-15
Application / communications
39
Success
45
2010 oct. 14
XM-5
Application / broadcasting
24
Success
46
2010 Nov. 14
SkyTerra-1
Application / communications
39
Success
47
2010 Dec. 27
KA-Sat
Application / communications
39
Success
48
2011 May 20

Telstar 14R (Estrela do Sul 2)

Application / communications
39
Success
49
2011 July 16

KazSat-2
SES-3

39
Success
50
2011 Aug. 18
39
Briz-M failure
51
2011 Sept. 21
Military/data relay
24
Success
52
2011 Sept. 29
QuetzSat-1
Application / communications
39
Success
53
2011 Oct. 19
ViaSat-1
Application / communications
39
Success
54
2011 Nov. 4
Three Uragan (GLONASS-M)
Application / navigation
24
Success
55
2011 Nov. 25
AsiaSat-7
Application / communications
39
Success
56
2011 Dec. 11
Luch-5A/Amos-5
Communications/data relay
24
Success
57
2012 Feb. 14

SES-4 (NSS-14)

Application / communications
39
Success
58
2012 March 25

Intelsat 22

Application / communications
39
Success
59
2012 April 24
YahSat 1B
Application / communications
39
Success
60
2012 May 17
Nimiq-6
Application / communications
24

Success

61
2012 July 9
SES-5
Application / communications
24
Success
62
2012 August 6
Application / communications
24
Briz-M failure
63
2012 Oct. 14
Intelsat 23
Application / communications
24
Success
64
2012 Nov. 3
Luch-5B, Yamal-300K
Application / communications
24
Success
65
2012 Nov. 20
EchoStar-16
Application / communications
39
Success
66
2012 Dec. 8
Application / communications
39
Briz-M failure
67
2013 March 26

SatMex-8

Application / communications
39
Success
68
2013 April 15

Anik G1

Application / communications
39
Success
69
2013 May 14

Eutelsat-3D

Application / communications
39
Success
70
2013 June 3

SES-6

Application / communications
39
Success
71
2013 Sept. 30
Application / communications
39
Success
72
2013 Oct. 25
Application / communications
39
Success
73
2013 Nov. 12

Raduga-1M (3)

24
Success
74
2013 Dec. 8
Application / communications
39
Success
75
2013 Dec. 26
24
Success
76
2014 Feb. 15
Applications / communications
24
Success
77
2014 March 16
24
Success
78
2014 April 28
24
Success
79
2014 May 16
39
Stage 3 failure
80
2014 Sept. 28
Military / communications
24
Success
81
2014 Oct. 21
24
82
2014 Dec. 15
24
Success
83
2014 Dec. 23
Experimental
-
Briz-M failure
84
2014 Dec. 28
Applications / communications
39
Success
85
2015 Feb. 1
Application / communications
Baikonur
39
Success
86
2015 March 19
Baikonur
39
Success
87 2015 May 16 MexSat-1 Application / communications Proton-M Baikonur
39
Stage 3 failure
88 2015 Aug. 28 Inmarsat-5 F3 Application / communications Proton-M Baikonur
39
Success
89 2015 Oct. 16 Turksat-4B Application / communications Proton-M Baikonur
39
Success
90
2015 Dec. 13
Military / communications
Baikonur
24
Success (generated at least six fragments)
91
2015 Dec. 25
Baikonur
39
Success
92
2016 Jan. 30
Application / communications
Baikonur
39
Success
93 Baikonur
39
Success (generated at least six fragments)
94
2016 June 9
Application / communications
Baikonur
24
Success
95
2017 June 8
Application / communications
24
Success
96
2017 Aug. 17
Military / communications
24
Success
97
2017 Sept. 11
Application / communications
39
Success
98
2017 Sept. 28
Application / communications
39
Success
99
2018 April 19
Military / communications
24 Success
100
2018 Dec. 21
Military / communications
24 Briz-M left payload with the "out-of-spec" orbital period
101
2019 May 30
39 Success
102
2019 Aug. 6
Military / communications
24 Success
103
2019 Oct. 9
Eutelsat-5 West-B, MEV-1 Application / communications
39
Success
104
2020 July 31
39
Success
105
2020 Dec. 14
Experimental
-
Success

*Payload later successfully delivered into correct orbit

 

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The article and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; last update: March 18, 2021

Page editor: Alain Chabot; last edit: December 16, 2019

All rights reserved

 

insider content

 

assembly

Test integration of the Briz-M stage (top) with its external tank (bottom). Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev


top

Briz-M

A front (top) and aft view of the Briz-M upper stage integrated with its external tank. Red protective boxes, which are removed before launch, cover acceleration thrusters. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev


14D30

Scale models of Briz-M's 14D30 engine (S5.98) (left) and its predecessor S5.92. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak


fuel

A close-up view of a 14D130 engine for the Briz-M stage in 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev


Parking orbit

Artist rendering of the Inmarsat-5 F2 satellite and its Briz-M upper stage in the initial parking orbit.


Briz

Artist rendering of Briz-M's second firing.


ET

Briz-M sheds its empty external tank between its third and fourth engine firings.


Burn4

Typically for an upper stage operating in weightlessness, Briz-M first fires its small thrusters to give the vehicle initial acceleration to ensure a reliable propellant supply into the main engine during prolonged orbit correction maneuvers.


Burn4

Briz-M conducts 4th orbit correction with its main engine.


fuel

Tests of the new fueling system for Briz-M stage in Baikonur at the end of 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


tests

The second Angara-5 rocket is being rolled out from the vehicle assembly building to the Briz fueling pad on December 7, 2020. Click to enlarge.


TsB

Briz-M stage sheds its external tank during a test flight of the Angara-5/Briz-M rocket. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2020 Anatoly Zak


tests

Briz-M upper stage maneuvers to a disposal orbit after the completion of the Angara-5 test flight. Cllick to enlarge.