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The Yenisei super-heavy rocket

In 2018, after several years of engineering studies, the Russian government approved the development of a super-heavy rocket, referring to a space launcher starting with a payload of more than 80 tons to the low Earth's orbit. Only the United States and the USSR were able to build vehicles of this class during the Cold War. However, a new race to mega rockets is now underway with the introduction of the American Falcon Heavy rocket, closely followed by the even bigger Space Launch System, SLS. A Chinese vehicle with similar capabilities is also believed to be in the works. This section provides in-depth history and the exclusive coverage of latest developments in the Russian super-heavy rocket project.

superheavy


The Yenisei super-heavy rocket program at a glance (as of 2019):

Project start Jan. 29, 2018
First launch (planned): 2028
Development cost 1,479,902.87 million rubles ($22.3 billion)*
Launch site (Insider content) Vostochny
Potential payloads PTK, LVPK, lunar base components, Mars exploration vehicles

*as of February 2019

Our introductory articles on the subject in Popular Mechanics: (1, 2)

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SOVIET AND RUSSIAN SUPER ROCKET PROJECTS
n1

N1 Moon rocket

At the end of the 1950s, the OKB-1 design bureau led by Sergei Korolev began development of a super-heavy rocket booster designated N1. Originally, it was proposed as a multipurpose vehicle for military and scientific tasks, including launching space stations, expeditions to the Moon and even human missions to Mars.

ur700

UR-700

At the beginning of the 1960s, internal rivalry marred the efforts of the Soviet space industry to respond to the US challenge to land a man on the Moon. Korolev's rival, Vladimir Chelomei, proposed an alternative rocket to the N1 launcher. Designated UR-700, this monstrous vehicle would make even Korolev's giant N1 look small. The UR-700 would employ modular design, which would allow to test and ship individual boosters of the vehicle separately.

UR-700

Atomic UR-700

In parallel with the development of the "regular" UR-700, Chelomei's engineers drafted a much bigger follow-on vehicle, which would be equipped with nuclear engines. (658) Known as Skhema "A" (Configuration "A") the system would feature a solid-core nuclear reactor and enable the UR-700 to deliver as much as 250 tons into the Earth orbit.

energia

Energia

Starting with a clean sheet after the cancellation of the N1 project in 1974, it took more than a decade for the USSR to field the Energia booster, which made two largely successful flights in 1987 and 1988. The 60-meter vehicle was acclaimed as the most advanced rocket of our time. However the disintegration of the USSR in 1991 left Energia to rust in Baikonur.

Sodruzhestvo

Sodruzhestvo

At the end of 1997, RKK Energia, the prime developer of the Energia rocket, proposed a heavy-lifting rocket named Sodruzhestvo (Alliance). It would be built jointly by Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus and based in Baikonur. In 2012, RKK Energia revived its proposal again, hoping for improved funding and better relations between Russia and Ukraine.

angara-100

Angara-100

In March 2005, GKNPTs Khrunichev unveiled ambitious plans for the country's participation in the US-led initiative to return to the Moon. The Moscow-based company proposed a super heavy rocket booster, along with a new generation of partially reusable spacecraft, which could support manned expeditions to the Moon and, eventually to Mars.

Yenisei-5

Amur and Yenisei

Around 2008, GKNPTs Khrunichev drafted a pair of launchers designated Amur-5 and Yenisei-5. While Amur-5 was mostly a repackaged version of Angara-100, Yenisei-5 had a radically different approach, featuring RD-0120 engines revived from the Energia project.

STK

TsSKB's STK

On Jan. 10, 2013, TsSKB Progress signed an agreement with the Russian space agency's strategic planning institute, TsNIIMash, to conduct a study code-named Oblik–TsSKB. Similar contracts were signed with other key Russian rocket developers. The company planned to design a heavy rocket with a payload of 70 tons.

Kaskad

Kaskad

Around 2013, the advanced planning division at GKNPTs Khrunichev drafted a family of launchers with a payload ranging from 16.6 tons to almost 130 tons to meet the requirement of Roskosmos for phased introduction of a super-heavy rocket.

energia5k

Energia-5K

Along with the two Russia's leading rocket manufacturers -- TsSKB Progress and GKNPTs Khrunichev -- RKK Energia, the nation's key developer of manned spacecraft, proposed its architecture of a super-heavy launcher in 2013.

Energia-5KV

Energia-5KV

During 2014, the concept of a Moon rocket proposed at RKK Energia continued to evolve. By that time, the project had received the designation Energia-5KV, where "V" stood either for "Vostochny launch site" or "vodorod," a Russian term for hydrogen. In the latter case, the name would emphasize more reliance on hydrogen fuel in the latest incarnation of the vehicle.
Energia-5V

Energia-5V

At the end of 2016 -- the beginning of 2017, RKK Energia formulated a new design for a super-heavy rocket for Russia's prospective lunar-exploration program. The new architecture, approaching NASA's Space Launch System, SLS, in size and payload, had two possible variations of the upper stage.

DEVELOPMENT HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN Yenisei SUPER-ROCKET PROJECT

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origin

2013-2016: Ups and downs of the super-heavy project

By the middle of 2016, the Russian scenario for lunar expeditions based on four Angara-5V rockets was deemed too risky and unreliable. Instead, Russia's strategic plans for human exploration of deep space defaulted back to a much larger super-heavy rocket.

STK

2017: Russia charts new roadmap to super-heavy rocket

After several years of discussions at the political and engineering levels, the Russian government finally took the first steps toward lining up long-term funding for the super-heavy rocket. On Nov. 13, Roskosmos issued a technical assignment to RKK Energia to develop a preliminary design of the super-heavy rocket.

superheavy

2018: Development begins (INSIDER CONTENT)

In 2018, after several years of stop-and-go conceptual studies, the Russian space industry finally went to the drawing board to begin the detailed design of a super-heavy rocket which would be capable of launching human missions to the Moon, as well as sending new-generation vehicles toward Mars, Jupiter and other planets.

var4

NEW, Feb. 4: 2019: Roskosmos selects the final design (INSIDER CONTENT)

At the end of January 2019, Roskosmos State Corporation chose the final design out of four contenders for the architecture of the future super-heavy rocket. The officials also locked in the amount of payload that the future vehicle would have to deliver into orbit around the Moon.

proposed variants of the SUPER-HEAVY LAUNCHER
variant1

Variant 1 (INSIDER CONTENT)

The first option to be considered in the course of the preliminary design of the super-heavy program will be a three-stage vehicle with a liftoff mass of 2,785 tons. It will be featuring six standard boosters on the first and second stages borrowed from the Soyuz-5 project. They will all have a diameter of 4.1 meters and carry RD-171MV engine.

variant2

Variant 2 (INSIDER CONTENT)

The second option to be considered in the course of the preliminary design of the super-heavy program will be a three-stage vehicle with a liftoff mass of between 2,830 and 2,840 tons. (These numbers apparently include the mass of two space tugs, which will be used for maneuvers to escape Earth's orbit and to brake near the Moon.)

var3

Variant 3 (INSIDER CONTENT)

The third option under consideration evaluates an Energia-like vehicle capable of hauling up to 120 tons of cargo into low orbit and up to 29 tons into the orbit around the Moon. Whereas the original Energia carried a side-mounted space plane, the new vehicle was designed to carry payloads in its nose cone, sending them on lunar-bound trajectories.

var4 Variant 4/Yenisei (winning configuration) (INSIDER CONTENT)

In November 2018, Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin announced that the RD-180 engine, originally developed at Moscow-based NPO Energomash for the US Atlas rocket, would be used on a future Russian launch vehicle.

don

STK-2/Don (maximum configuration) (INSIDER CONTENT)

At the beginning of 2019, during the final review of a development path toward the super-heavy launcher, the strategists at Roskosmos also attempted to take an early look at the maximum extent of the program.

LAUNCH AND SUPPORT INFRASTRUCTURE
superheavy

Launch facility for a super rocket (INSIDER CONTENT)

From the outset of the Vostochny project, Roskosmos assumed that at the conclusion of the third phase of the space center's development, it would be able to host a super-heavy launch vehicle with a payload up to 100 tons. As of 2017, the pad for a super-heavy launcher was promised to be completed within a decade.

 

To be continued

 

All articles, photos and illustrations inside this section by Anatoly Zak unless stated otherwise. All rights reserved

Last update: February 19, 2019