The Soyuz-2 rocket series
With the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, developers of the Soyuz rocket, along with the rest of the nation's space industry, wanted to consolidate its subcontractor network inside the Russian Federation. To accomplish the goal, TsSKB Progress in the city of Samara, developed a new version of its workhorse Soyuz launcher, under research and development plan dubbed Rus. In addition to a fully domestic production, the project envisioned a number of technical improvements to the rocket which became known as Soyuz-2. The future three-stage, 313-ton base vehicle could be used in combination with Ikar and Fregat upper stages.
A Soyuz-ST (Soyuz-2) rocket lifts off from Kourou on April 3, 2014, with Sentinel-1A satellite. Credit: ESA
The Soyuz-2 rocket at a glance:
According to the original plan, the Soyuz-2 (military designation - 14A14, industrial designation - 131KS), also known as Soyuz-2K and Soyuz-M) would sport a brand-new RD-0124 (14D23) closed-cycle engine on its third stage and all-digital flight control system with terminal guidance system. The first and second stage would be equipped with 14D21 and 14D22 engines with improved injection system.
All the upgrades combined would increase the payload of the vehicle by 1,200 kilogram in comparison with the base launcher.
If launched from Baikonur, the Soyuz-2 would be capable of delivering 8,500 kilograms into the low-Earth orbit and 2,350 kilograms toward the Moon. The Soyuz-2 could also fly from slightly upgraded launch pad in Plesetsk and from newly developed launch complex in Kourou, French Guiana. Launches from French Guiana could deliver as much as 9,000-9,200 kilograms to the low orbit.
The Soyuz-2 could be employed to launch a variety of traditional payloads of the Soyuz family, including reconnaissance satellites. Before the rocket could be "man-rated," it was considered as a carrier of the enlarged version of the Progress M1 cargo ships equipped with the assembly and protective block SZB (11S517A2), with the total mass of 8,350 kilograms and maximum diameter of 3,000 millimeters.
The Soyuz-2 could also launch prospective modules for the Russian segment of the International Space Station, ISS, with the total mass of 8,100 kilograms, maximum diameter of 3,700 millimeters and the length of 14,100 millimeters.
To enable launches of the Soyuz-2 rocket toward the ISS, plans were made to upgrade processing facilities at Site 2 in Baikonur by the year 2000. However, collapsing funding of the Russian space industry during 1999 and 2000 forced Russian space officials to freeze the plans to launch Soyuz-2 from Baikonur as well as the development of its space station payloads. (164)
Financial problems of the industry also pushed the rest of the Rus program nearly a decade behind schedule, forcing developers to introduce upgrades in several phases. Since the development of the new RD-0124 engine was the most expensive and time-consuming part of the upgrade, it was deferred to a later time. At the time of the first Soyuz-2-1a launch in November 2004, Russian space officials said that the next upgrade -- Soyuz-2-1b launch vehicle with the RD-0124 engine -- could fly in 2006.
The initial version of the upgraded vehicle, known as Soyuz-2-1a, featured a four-meter payload fairing. It was capable of carrying 300 kilograms more payload thanks to the replacement of an old analog flight control system with a digital computer and the use of a more flexible launch trajectory. In 2012, KBKhA design bureau promised to develop the 11D55 steering engine specifically for the Soyuz-2-1a rocket.
New flight control system
The work on the digital flight control system for the Soyuz-2 rocket started at NPO Avtomatika of Yekaterinburg as early as 1993. The system included three independent processing units and two gyroscopes, which drastically improved the reliability of the flight control system.
In 2006, Lef Belskiy, Deputy Director of NPO Avtomatika for rocket and space systems told ITAR-TASS news agency that the work on the flight control system for the Soyuz-2 became a lifesaver for his organization. At the time, 400 employees of NPO Avtomatika have been involved in this development. Modest federal funding for the project started coming during 1994-1995 and the money flow increased substantially at the beginning of the following decade.
On January 4, 2005, Arianespace announced that the Soyuz-2-1b vehicle with the new RD-0124 engine would fly its first test mission from Site 31 at Baikonur, launching a 630-kilogram Corot astronomy satellite in a 850-kilometer polar orbit. In January 2006, the launch was expected in September 2006, given successful tests of the RD-0124 engine then planned for March and April 2006. The first test firing did take place on April 5, 2006, at the IS-102 facility of NIIKhimMash center in Sergiev Posad. Another test took place on October 20, 2006, at 17:20 Moscow Time.
According to the deputy head of Roskosmos Viktor Ramishevskiy, quoted by RIA Novosti, it was the final test firing of the RD-0124 engine, thus clearing the way for the first launch of the Soyuz-2-1b rocket, then scheduled for December 21, 2006.
In 2012, KBKhA design bureau promised to develop the 14D23 steering engine specifically for the Soyuz-2-1b rocket.The version of the Soyuz-2 vehicle known as Soyuz ST was adapted to fly from its launch complex at the European launch site in French Guiana. It featured a number of upgrades, including additional avionics supplied by European contractors. On June 22, 2006, French company Alcatel Alenia Space announced that it would provide subsystems for the complete safeguard chain of Soyuz-Fregat rockets to be launched from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou.
The contract included the development and manufacturing of the BCA ("Boîtier de Commutation et d'Alimentation", the switching & power feeder unit), as well as electronic ground equipment for tests and the reception of the safeguard subsystem onboard Soyuz-2 rockets. In case of a botched launch, the BCA will ensure the emergency engine shutdown, leaving the vehicle on a ballistic trajectory.
According to postings on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki forum, receivers on all stages were upgraded for S-band functionality. Four boosters of the first stage were upgraded with an additional system designed to breach their sealed compartments in order to prevent floating of the stages, after their splashdown in the Atlantic. It would achieved by a pyrotechnical device opening a pneumatic valve on the fuel tank. The oxidizer tank would be unsealed in any case, by opening a nozzle used to break the booster during the separation from the core stage. The second and third stage required no upgrades, since it was proven that they would loose integrity as they hit the ocean surface.
To certify the rocket for operation in the tropical climate of French Guiana, developers evaluated all unsealed interior volumes onboard the vehicle and certified that all holes and cavities in its structure were adequately protected from insects and small rodents. The rocket's ability to withstand dust and humidity was also reconfirmed.
Some upgrades included a special covering on the core stage and booster stages to reduce icing, as well as modified systems, which enabled the integration of the third stage and its payload module in vertical position.
Unlike the standard Soyuz-2 rocket, chemical ignition was not expected to be used onboard Soyuz-ST, until the accumulation of reliable statistics on its performance with the "Russian" version of the rocket.
On February 14, 2006, Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, and Anatoly Perminov, Director General of Roskosmos, signed the supply contract for the first four Soyuz launch vehicles to be launched from Kourou. A signing ceremony in Moscow was attended by the French and Russian prime ministers. At the time the first launch of the Soyuz from Kourou was expected in November 2008. On Sept. 20, 2008, in Sochi, Russia, Roskosmos and Arianespace signed another agreement for the supply of additional 10 Soyuz-ST launch vehicles with the reported price tag of between $300-400 million. The Soyuz-ST vehicles ordered within first two contracts would be based on both Soyuz-2-1a and 2.1b versions, and they were unofficially designated as Soyuz-STA and Soyuz-STB respectively. At the time of the second contract, the first launch from Kourou was promised in September 2009.
In 2010, a total of 24 Soyuz-ST missions from Kourou were reported as ordered and in 2012, the head of Roskosmos said that 23 such launches had been planned until 2019. The shipment of two additional Soyuz-ST rockets to Kourou was scheduled during the summer of 2012.
On Sept. 9, 2013, Arianespace announced that 11 Soyuz rockets had been under contract for near-term missions and the company was "in contact" with its Russian partners for (production) of between 7 and 10 additional launchers to be used from 2016. Probably hinting at some potential production conflict with Russia's internal needs, Arianespace said that it has been still enough time "to work out details in the production flow for Arianespace’s own requirements." Following a series of negotiations from February 20 and 24, 2014, Roskosmos secured a $400-million order from Arianespace for seven Soyuz-ST rockets.
Specifically for its use in Vostochny, the Soyuz-2 family was expected to get modest internal updates to enable the fueled rocket to remain on the launch pad for up to 100 hours and withstand the rigors of transportation up to 10,000 kilometers from its manufacturing plant in Samara to the Russian Far East. Soyuz rockets built for launches from Vostochny would also be equipped with special valves to drain excess propellant outside of the Mobile Service Tower, MBO, to prevent dangerous concentration of oxygen vapors in its interior.
On March 19, 2008, at 07:00 in the morning, the Soyuz-2-1b rocket was rolled out to the launch pad No. 4 in Plesetsk for dry tests of all launch operations except fueling. The rocket was expected to remain at the site for four days, before rolling back to the processing building.
After a one-day delay by technical problems, a Soyuz-2-1b rocket flew its first mission from Plesetsk with a Persona new-generation military satellite. According to the official Russian press, the launch vehicle blasted on July 26, 2008, at 22:31 Moscow Time, carrying a military satellite designed to work for seven years.
The Soyuz 2-1a launch vehicle carrying the initial cluster of six Globalstar second-generation satellites lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Pad 6 at Site 31 in Kazakhstan on October 19, 2010, at 21:10:59 Moscow Time.
Continuing an ever increasing pace of its space program, Russia made a third attempt to orbit its newest generation satellite for military communications.
A Soyuz-2-1a rocket with the Fregat upper stage lifted off from Pad No. 4 at Site 43 in Plesetsk on Nov. 2, 2010, at 03:59 Moscow Time. Two minutes later, Russia's ground control network started tracking the vehicle, which successfully reached its initial orbit, official military sources said. According the Ministry of Defense spokesman, the separation of the payload from the upper stage was scheduled for 06:13 Moscow Time, as vehicles would be orbiting the Earth within communication range of the ground control network.
In the post-launch interview with Zvezda channel, Aleksandr Kirilin, the head of TsSKB Progress said that the mission concluded the test flight program of the Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle, clearing the way to the formal acceptance of the rocket into the armaments of the Russian military.
Almost five years after the original short-lived mission of a compact observation satellite built in Russia for the government of Egypt, a Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat-M rocket lifted off on Feb. 21, 2019, carrying a replacement bird dubbed EgyptSat-A. However, the launch vehicle's third stage experienced an anomaly, leaving its payload some 60 kilometers lower than planned. Fortunately, once again, the Fregat space tug saved the day by automatically extending its own maneuvers and delivered the satellite into its planned orbit.
A Russian-built Soyuz rocket, procured by European consortium Arianespace, successfully delivered first six OneWeb satellites on Feb. 27, 2019, for a London-based company, kicking off the deployment of a nearly 650-bird-strong global Internet constellation in low orbit. The launch took place as scheduled at 6:37 p.m. local time (4:37 p.m. EST/21:37 GMT).
A Soyuz-2-1a rocket lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 4, 2019, successfully sending the Progress MS-11 cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station, ISS. The liftoff took place as scheduled at 14:01 Moscow Time, 7:01 a.m. EDT.
Within hours after the launch of a Soyuz-2-1a rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on April 4, 2019, on the opposite side of the Earth, an identical vehicle lifted off from the Atlantic coast of South America with four O3b satellites heading into a 800-kilometer orbit to provide low-cost Internet access around the world. The European Arianespace consortium, which operates commercial Soyuz launches from the South-American facility, designated the mission as VS22, which denoted the 22nd launch of the Russian-built rocket from French Guiana.
The 58th mission to deploy and maintain the GLONASS constellation lifted off from Plesetsk on a Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat rocket on May 27, 2019, at 09:23 Moscow Time. Slightly more than three and a half hours later, the GLONASS M-58 satellite was released into its circular orbit about 19,000 kilometers above the Earth's surface.
Russia launched a Soyuz-2-1b rocket from the Vostochny spaceport on July 5, 2019, carrying the Meteor M2-2 weather and climate-monitoring satellite, along with a cluster of 32 secondary payloads, which were all deployed to their planned orbits, according to Roskosmos. The fresh Meteor replaced its sibling destroyed in a launch mishap on November 28, 2017. It was the fifth launch from Russia's far-eastern space center since its inauguration in April 2016 and the fourth mission for the Meteor-M series.
After a nearly five-year hiatus, the Russian military launched an eighth Meridian communications satellite on July 30, 2019, to replenish its latest-generation Integrated Satellite Communications System, ISSS. A Soyuz-2-1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage was reported to perform as planned.
Russian specialists at Baikonur Cosmodrome launched a Soyuz-2-1a rocket on July 31, 2019, carrying the Progress MS-12 cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station, ISS. Upon reaching orbit in less than 10 minutes, the spacecraft began a two-orbit rendezvous process with the station, which resulted in docking with the Russian Segment in a record-breaking time for the ISS program of 3 hours and 19 minutes.
On August 22, 2019, the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft began a flight to the International Space Station. It was the first mission of the Soyuz transport vehicle without a crew in 33 years and the first ever pilotless mission in the Soyuz series heading to the ISS. The Soyuz MS-14 mission flew without a crew in order to finally certify the Soyuz-2-1a rocket for piloted missions, after a launch failure in 2015.
Key contractors in the Soyuz-2 project:
Soyuz-2 payload capabilities (in kilograms):
Fregat upper stages at NPO Lavochkin's testing and checkout station, KIS. The development and test version is on the foreground, a demonstration copy is on the background. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
A full-scale mockup of an eight-chamber hydrogen engine proposed for future upper stages compatible with Soyuz-2-1b vehicle. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
The Soyuz-2 launcher on the refurbished launch pad in Plesetsk in 2004. Credit: Arianespace
The Soyuz-2 rocket, apparently with the Persona military satellite, during pre-launch processing in Plesetsk in 2008. Credit: Vesti
The rollout of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket with the third Meridian satellite in the fall of 2010. Credit: Zvezda TV channel
The Soyuz-2-1b rocket with the first GLONASS-K satellite on the launch pad in Plesetsk in February 2011. Credit: Roskosmos
The Soyuz-2-1a rocket with the fourth Meridian satellite lifts off from Plesetsk on May 4, 2011. Credit: Vesti TV channel
Soyuz-2-1a with MetOp-B on the launch pad in September 2012. Credit: TsENKI
Soyuz-2-1a with MetOp-B lifts off on Sept. 17, 2012. Credit: TsENKI
Soyuz lifts off with two Galileo satellites on Oct. 12, 2012. Credit: Arianespace
Soyuz-2 lifts off on Feb. 6, 2013, with fourth and final six Globalstar-2 satellites in a last commercial mission from Baikonur. Credit: TsENKI
A payload fairing for the launch of the Bion-M No. 1 spacecraft in April 2013. Credit: TsENKI
A Soyuz-2.1a rocket lifts off on April 19, with Bion-M No. 1. Credit: Roskosmos
The Soyuz-2-1b rocket launches GLONASS-M No. 47 satellite on April 26, 2013. Credit: Zvezda TV channel
Soyuz lifts off with the first pair operational Galileo satellites on Aug. 22, 2014. Credit: Arianespace
Soyuz-2-1a lifts off on Oct. 29, 2014, with Progress M-25M cargo ship. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Third Persona lifts off on June 23, 2015. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz-ST-B/Fregat-MT rocket lifts off on Sept. 10, 2015, with a pair of Galileo FOC-M3 satellites. Click to enlarge. Credit: Arianespace
Soyuz-2-1a lifts off with Progress-MS on Dec. 21, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
A Soyuz-2-1b rocket lifts off with the GLONASS-M-51 satellite on Feb. 7, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense
Launch of the Progress MS-07 spacecraft on Oct. 14, 2017, was an early step in transition of the Soyuz-MS series from the Soyuz-FG to the Soyuz-2-1a rocket variant. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos