Preliminary design for Soyuz-5 races to completion
During 2017, Russian engineers at RKK Energia began fast-paced work on the preliminary design of the new medium-class launch vehicle to replace the Ukrainian-built Zenit. Designated Soyuz-5, the new rocket could become the carrier of Russian cosmonauts into orbit, while also serving as a stepping stone toward a super-heavy rocket. Even more importantly, the Kremlin saw the new-generation vehicle as the Russian response to the American challenge on the commercial launch market, making the work on the Soyuz-5 booster especially urgent.
The Soyuz-5 rocket family as of 2017 (left to right): The launch vehicle for the PTK Federatsiya spacecraft; a launch vehicle with the Block DM-SL upper stage for the Sea Launch platform; a launch vehicle with Block DM-SLB upper stage compatible with launch pad at Site 45 in Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Preliminary design on Soyuz-5 begins
At the beginning of March 2017, Roskosmos gave the industry the green light for the first practical steps to initiate the preliminary design of the medium-class rocket, publicly known as Soyuz-5. At the time, the leadership of the State Corporation informed the industry that the first contracts for the project would be awarded as soon as June and officials began preparing technical assignments for the rocket's components.
Because Soyuz-5 was conceived as a the booster stage of a future super-heavy rocket, the work on it was covered by the budget of the Research and Development Project, OKR, called Elements of the Super-Heavy Class, or Elementy STK in Russian. The Elementy STK program was endorsed with the official decision KI-153-r from Roskosmos on March 30, 2017.
In the following month, Roskosmos worked out a formal technical assignment for the Soyuz-5 launcher. The document was completed by April 28.
With the blessing from Roskosmos and before any formal contracts could be signed, RKK Energia, whose PTK Federatsiya spacecraft was expected to be a key passenger on Soyuz-5, took the role of the prime contractor in the project. No usual tender process for the prime contractor selection was apparently held.
By June 30, RKK Energia issued technical assignments to its subcontractors to convert the Zenit launch pad and ground processing infrastructure in Baikonur for the new rocket. Either because the Soyuz-5 was expected to have a larger caliber than that of Zenit (4.1 meters instead of 3.9 meters in diameter), or because the latter's transport equipment belonged to Ukraine, RKK Energia also ordered a new set of railway trailers for the vehicle. Finally, the Zenit's automated launch system too was expected to be re-developed for the purposes of the Soyuz-5 program.
On the political front, on May 22, 2017, President Putin endorsed a controversial proposal from Roskosmos to base the next-generation manned spacecraft, PTK Federatsiya, in Baikonur rather than in Vostochny. The decision allowed switching the next-generation spacecraft from Angara-5P to Soyuz-5, further boosting the political significance of Soyuz-5.
By the beginning of June, RKK Energia, RKTs Progress and the NIISK organization, responsible for launch equipment, had already begun work on the preliminary design for Soyuz-5.
On July 28, 2017, the Russian government issued decision No. 1638r, which formally named RKK Energia as the sole prime contractor in the development of the booster. By that time, RKK Energia had already done some "home work," delivering Roskosmos a list of key components of the launch vehicle complex and a list of 22 technical assignments, four of which were to be generated at RKK Energia and 18 others were to be issued by RKTs Progress.
On August 22, after some delay, Roskosmos awarded RKK Energia a formal contract (No. 351-8502A/17/156) to develop a preliminary design of the medium class launch vehicle complex by March 31, 2018. This, in turn, allowed RKK Energia to begin awarding contracts to its industrial partners and issuing specifications for various subsystems.
Unusually for a preliminary design phase, Roskosmos put a condition into its contracts with the industry that it would approve all the technical assignments for Soyuz-5 with the military certification services of the Russian Ministry of Defense, known since the Soviet period for its uncompromising attitude toward every letter of the paperwork and every specification of the hardware.
The decision probably aimed to improve quality control over the work, which involved a man-rated rocket, but the move also had the potential to delay the paper phase of the project with unnecessary red tape, industry sources complained to Roskosmos. However, the leadership of the State Corporation was unimpressed and reminded the project managers to comply with the conditions of the contract.
On August 11, 2017, RKK Energia publicly confirmed that it had been working on the preliminary design of the Soyuz-5 launch vehicle including its man-rated version in cooperation with RKTs Progress and the TsENKI launch infrastructure organization, among other subcontractors.
On September 8, RKK Energia issued the detailed integrated schedule for the development of the preliminary design.
Activities in the immediate future
As of the end of September, RKK Energia hoped to complete the preliminary design on the project at subcontractor level in the second half of November, followed by the completion of preliminary design for the 371SK15 integrated launch vehicle complex by December 15, 2017.
The completed project was to be delivered for expertise and critique to Russia's certification centers, such as the TsNIIMash research institute.
After all the necessary reviews and amendments to the project, Roskosmos was expected to hold a meeting of the Scientific and Technical Council, NTS, for a formal defense of the project around Feb. 23, 2018. However, as of September 2017, Roskosmos insisted on the completion of the preliminary design before the end of the year...
Components of the Soyuz-5 launch vehicle complex and their main contractors:
Known specifications of the Soyuz-5 launch vehicle as of October 2017:
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The Soyuz-5 rocket family as envisioned in 2017. Copyright © 2017 Anatoly Zak
Head of RKTs Progress Aleksandr Kirilin presents a concept of the Soyuz-5 launch vehicle during a tour of the company by an interim governor of the Samara Region Dmitry Azarov on Oct. 6, 2017. Credit: Volga News.