Evolution of the test flight program for Russia's next-generation spacecraft
During the 2010s, Roskosmos's plans to test-fly its new-generation spacecraft, PTK, designed to replace Soyuz, underwent drastic changes, as the project suffered from changing priorities, moved between different launch vehicles and launch sites and even changed its name from Federatsiya to Orel.
By 2013, various sources enabled to compile an emerging picture of the flight test program aimed to certify the PTK NP spacecraft to carry the crew. According to official statements, up to three launches of the Zenit rocket beginning as early as the middle of 2018, would carry piloteless prototype of the spacecraft into low Earth orbit, possibly, culminating with a docking at the International Space Station.
At least one launch on a Proton rocket, or (if the mass of the vehicle could be dramatically reduced -- on a Zenit rocket), would accelerate PTK NP's crew capsule to match the velocity of a mission returning from the Moon. The flight would test the capability of PTK NP's heat shield to withstand the atmospheric reentry. A dual mission launched by a pair of Proton rockets would see a docking between the piloteless PTK NP spacecraft and a Block-DM space tug capable of sending the spacecraft to fly by the Moon.
All these initial test flights were expected to originate in Baikonur. It is logical to assume that the switch of the PTK NP spacecraft to the Angara-5-derived launch vehicle based in Vostochny would require additional piloteless launches into low Earth orbit. Finally, with the appearance of a heavy-lifting launch vehicle, two piloteless versions of the PTK NP spacecraft were expected to fly test missions into lunar orbit, paving the way to a manned circumlunar flight by 2030. (642) At the time, Russian space officials predicted the first launch of the Yenisei-5 heavy-lifting launch vehicle from Vostochny Cosmodrome around 2028.
Flight test program for the PTK NP spacecraft as of Spring 2013*:
As the PTK Orel next-generation crew vehicle finally left the drawing board in 2019, the developers were finalizing an extensive ground testing program to validate numerous technical capabilities of the future spacecraft before it could reach the launch pad no earlier than the end of September 2023.
In 2019, Russian specialists have begun preparing a simplified prototype of the new-generation spacecraft, PTK Federatsiya, for a first launch in 2022, or seven years past the originally promised launch date, yet the mission, known as PTK 1L, faced a very challenging schedule, technical issues, funding shortfalls and personnel problems.
To save time in preparation for the first launch of the new-generation crew vehicle, Roskosmos decided to push a series of the most complex ground tests of the future spacecraft to a period after the politically important inaugural mission. Only the second phase of testing would clear the new ship for carrying cosmonauts. Here is the scope of the work.
Also in 2019, the developers of the PTK crew vehicle have formulated a scenario for an additional test flight which had to precede launches of the future spacecraft with cosmonauts onboard. As in the test program of NASA's Orion spacecraft, the new Russian transport system would have to demonstrate safe operation of its emergency escape rockets in real flight before the vehicle could be certified to carry a crew. The launch was initially planned on a custom-built Angara-1E rocket but was moved to a serially produced Angara-5 before the end of 2019.
Flight test program for the PTK NP spacecraft as of Fall 2019:
Flight test program for the PTK NP spacecraft as of December 2019:
2022: New flight test program
The radical re-purposing of the PTK NP project from lunar missions to supporting the future space station also re-shaped its ground and test flight program. The timeline of the testing was delayed as well, with the first flight pushed to 2027.
According to one concept circa 2013, an unpiloted Descent Module of the PTK NP spacecraft could be mated with a Block DM upper stage for a high-speed reentry test of the capsule's heat shield. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak
PTK NP spacecraft depicted in the low Earth orbit as of 2013. Credit: RKK Energia
During its second mission, the unpiloted version of the PTK NP spacecraft was expected to dock at the ISS. Copyright © 2020 Anatoly Zak
According on an early plan circa 2013, the PTK NP spacecraft would dock with the Block DM upper stage to accomplish a circumlunar test mission. Both vehicles could be launched on Proton rockets. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak
The 2019 test flight manifest of the PTK program included two crew missions to the lunar orbit and docking with the test version of the LVPK lunar lander at the end of the 2020s. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2016 Anatoly Zak
Interior of the PTK NP descent module, VA. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak