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NEW, Dec. 15: Super-heavy launcher


Energia-5KV

Energia-5KV


STK

TsSKB Progress' super-heavy launchers


Soyuz-5

Soyuz-5 rocket


Yenisei-5

Yenisei-5


Sodruzhestvo

Sodruzhestvo


Energia-5K

Energia-5K


Kaskad

Kaskad


Mayak

Mayak


5P

Angara-5P


2012

Manned space flight


MAKS-2013

MAKS 2013 air show


RD-0120

RD-0120 engine


 

 

 

 

 

Russia outlines its rocket-development strategy

In the spring of 2013, the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, released another version of a public document outlining the nation's latest strategy in space. The 17-page paper, dated April 29, 2013, did not contain any surprises among proclaimed goals in space or means to achieve them, but clarified the agency's timeline in the development of launch vehicles.

Previous chapter: Russian space program during 2010s

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Timeline

Above: A timeline of launch vehicle development in Russia as of 2013.


Since rockets always form a foundation of any independent space program, the agency's commitment or lack of thereof to the development of new launchers illustrated the pace and scope of the Russian space program. As in previous revisions of the document, all future goals were grouped into time periods before 2015, before 2020, before 2030 and after 2030:

Before 2015, Roskosmos pledged to fulfill following goals:

Before 2020:

  • To conduct the development of a launch facility for the heavy-lifting rocket in Vostochny (Editor's note: it implied the construction of the launch facility for Angara-5, but the vague language of the document indicated that the site would not be ready before 2020);
  • To develop infrastructure for manned space flight operations in Vostochny (Editor's note: the vague language of the document indicated that no manned missions would lift off from the site before 2020);
  • To develop a cryogenic upper stage for future launch vehicles;
  • To introduce a cryogenic upper stage based in Plesetsk.

Before 2030:

  • To retire the Proton launch vehicle;
  • To introduce a super-heavy launch vehicle based in Vostochny and capable of delivering a payload exceeding 50 tons to the low Earth orbit;
  • To conduct the development of a reusable, electrically propelled space tug for the re-supply of a lunar base.

After 2030:

  • To introduce a launch vehicle with a reusable first stage;
  • To conduct manned missions to the vicinity of the Moon, manned expeditions to the Moon and the construction of a lunar base;
  • To build a technological foundation for the development of a transport system enabling the manned expedition to Mars, including a super-heavy launch vehicle with a payload of 130-180 tons, and the electrically propelled space tug.

For the exception of launching Angara from Plesetsk before 2015, the document established no solid deadlines for any major goals in space and pushed most ambitious projects well into 2030s. Most notably, the prospects for the development of super-heavy launchers receded from 2020s to 2030s in just one year of strategic planning. As one veteran of the rocket industry put it, in the field of launch vehicle development, this program had given birth to a mouse instead of a mountain. (655)

A roadmap to super-heavy launchers

As the Angara rocket family was reaching the launch pad in mid-2010s, Roskosmos had to decide on the capabilities and the architecture of the next-generation space launcher. The payload of the largest approved version of the Angara rocket approaching 25 tons to the low Earth orbit was far not enough for any deep-space missions that were considered at the time as the next step in manned space flight.

Details inside

Launch facilities and support infrastructure

No matter what the final architecture the super-heavy rocket would ultimately assume, its development would likely present a number of the same challenges for the Russian engineers. First of all, the use of liquid hydrogen would require new infrastructure handling cryogenic propellant at the future launch site in Vostochny, in addition to already funded facilities for liquid oxygen and kerosene. Hydrogen infrastructure could probably grow from initial facilities built to support upper stages of future rockets equipped with the RD-0146 engine. However a much more powerful hydrogen engine, like Energia's RD-0120 from the Soviet era, would have to be revived to propel larger booster stages of prospective launchers.

Last but not least, a special assembly factory would have to be built right at the launch site in the remote Far East of Russia, because ground transportation of such large components with a diameter of eight or even 12 meters from the European part of the country would be impossible, while air deliveries could prove unaffordable. In March 2014, a representative of the NPO Technomash Aleksei Baraev was quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency as saying that the core stage of the future super-heavy launch vehicle would have a diameter of about 10 meters, making its transportation to Vostochny impossible. As a result, the rocket would need a production facility at the new launch site. According to Baraev, the development of an entirely new aircraft for the purpose was explored, however such an option was recognized as considerably more expensive.

At the beginning of December 2013, a commission from Roskosmos including officials from TsNIIMash and other organizations of the rocket industry surveyed potential launch sites in Vostochny for manned missions and for super-heavy launch vehicles, the official ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Reusable launchers?

During the 2010s, Russia remained one of the few space powers that still officially pursued the development of a partially reusable launcher. Moreover, the official strategy of Roskosmos called for the eventual replacement of the nation's most powerful throwaway rockets with fly-back boosters. Unfortunately, the Russian attempts to forge a cooperative effort with the European industry in the field of reusable rockets under Barguzin and Ural projects apparently fizzled out after only very preliminary work. Still, many Russian forward-looking documents called for the eventual development of the Reusable Launch Vehicle, MRKN.

New rocket engines?

Although most designs of heavy and super-heavy rockets in Russia relied on tried and tested RD-170, RD-180 and RD-0124 engines, even more powerful propulsion systems appeared on the horizon in the country during 2010s. In April 2012, the Interfax AVN news agency reported that RKK Energia and Keldysh Center proposed the Scientific and Technical Council at Roskosmos to consider the use of the RD-175 engine, then under development at NPO Energomash in Moscow, whithin the project of a super-heavy rocket.

Few details on RD-175 were available, besides its whooping 1,000 tons of thrust. A designation indicated that it might be derived from RD-170/171 and, thus, would use liquid oxygen and kerosene. At the time, NPO Energomash completed the preliminary design of the engine and was assembling an experimental unit to test its key design features. (640) In 2013, NPO Energomash reitirated that the work on RD-175 was ongoing.

Next chapter: Russian super-heavy launcher concept during 2010s

 

APPENDIX

Overview of Russian launch vehicle development roadmap as of 2013:

Luncher type
Payload to LEO
Development period
Payloads, tasks and destinations
Heavy (Angara-5/5P)
20 tons
2015-2020
PTK NP spacecraft to low Earth orbit
Super heavy (Phase I) (Sodruzhestvo, STK, Energia-5K, Energia-5KV, Kaskad Phase I)
50-70 tons; 80-85 tons
2021-2030
Separate delivery of the a PTK NP spacecraft and a lunar lander to the vicinity of the Moon to support for manned lunar landing
Super heavy (Phase II) (Yenisei-5, Kaskad Phase II, STK Phase II)
130-190 tons
2030s
The 450-500-ton Mars expeditionary complex assembled out of 90-112-ton components launched by 4 or 5 rockets; Deployment and support of permanent lunar bases with long-duration crews; missions to asteroids; construction of space-based power stations and industrial production in space;

Read (and see) much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:

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Page author: Anatoly Zak

Last update: December 15, 2014

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Angara

More than a decade behind schedule, the Angara project promised to give Russia a new-generation of space boosters. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak


Sodruzhestvo

By 2013, rockets with payloads of 55 tons and above were promised to enter service during 2020s. Copyright © 2012 Anatoly Zak


Yensei-5

From 2012 to 2013, prospects for the development of super-heavy launcher, such as Yenisei-5, receded from 2020s to 2030s. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak


MRKN

A family of reusable launchers proposed by GKNPTs Khrunichev within the MRKN project. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak


Mayak

Around the time Roskosmos was considering its decision on the super heavy launcher development, Ukrainian KB Yuzhnoe design bureau proposed a Mayak launch vehicle with similar capabilities. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak


RD-170

The RD-170 engine powered the first stage of the Energia rocket. Click to enlarge: 300 by 400 pixels / 56K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak


RD-175

Rendering of the RD-175 engine. Credit: Keldysh center

 

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