Angara suffers another setback in Vostochny
Russia's flagship rocket faces another potentially years-long delay with the introduction of a critical launch pad at the nation's Vostochny spaceport. The lack of this facility presents a major hurdle for the Russian hopes to return to the commercial launch market and to implement Moscow's ambitious human exploration program.
On January 23, 2019, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev chaired a meeting dealing with financial problems at Roskosmos.
Roskosmos cancels Angara pad contract
The Roskosmos State Corporation cancelled the agreement with the troubled PSO Kazan company to build the launch pad for the Angara rocket in Vostochny. The contract for the development of the second phase of the new spaceport, which included the Angara launch complex, was signed last fall after many delays.
Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, who curates the space and defense industry for the Russian government, announced the news on January 23 after the latest meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev dedicated to financial problems at Roskosmos. Medvedev singled out Vostochny as a symptomatic example of poor management at the State Corporation. Only five out of 19 facilities were officially completed in Vostochny in the first phase of construction by the deadline last year, Medvedev said, according to the public recap of the meeting released by the Russian government.
After the closed-door event, Borisov told journalists that the aborted contract on the Angara pad cost the project at least six months in delays, but, he essentially admitted that the actual completion of the critically needed facility would be pushed back by around two years. "Let's not have any illusions, nobody will be able to build (Angara pad) by 2021," Borisov told reporters about the recent official deadline for the project, "Today, due to the juggling of prime contractors, the deadline is beyond 2021, but it (has to be) no later than 2023, because otherwise, it would be desynchronized with the development of the rocket, which would be ready but no place to launch from."
Borisov referred to the Angara-5M rocket, which was promised to replace the Proton rocket on the commercial launch market, however the new vehicle also needs a new launch pad and the processing infrastructure for large satellites in order to compete internationally. The current Angara pad at the military launch site in Plesetsk lacks infrastructure for commercial users and its geographical position puts the vehicle at disadvantage relative to its competitors around the world.
Borisov did not name the new prime contractor for the Angara pad in Vostochny or say when such organization would be selected. However, he assured reporters that the government would not freeze the construction despite multiple criminal cases associated with the spaceport, the essential bankruptcy of its developers, the breach of contracts and lagging schedules. According to Borisov, a total of 28 billion rubles remained unspent during the first development phase, which focused on the Soyuz launch facility. However, he explained that considerable money unspent by bankrupt contractors is tied up in courts, so, in order to avoid further delays in construction, Roskosmos would have to fund the same activities again, in the hope of returning some of the original payments later.
Borisov also confirmed plans to introduce a third launch pad in Vostochny in 2023, this time for the Soyuz-5/Irtysh family. The same facility will be designed to be compatible with the Yenisei super-heavy rocket, which will use a first stage based on the Soyuz-5 boosters.
However, Borisov warned that delays with the construction of the Angara pad could also have a schedule conflict with the development of the Soyuz-5/super-heavy facilities in Vostochny.
On January 29, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Roskosmos spokesman Vladimir Ustimenko as promising to award a new contract for the Angara launch pad in Vostochny "before beginning of spring."
On February 12, the AO Tyazhmash company announced that it had begun the first phase of assembly of the fueling and umbilical tower for the Vostochny launch pad designed to host the Angara rockets. At the time, Tyazhmash completed two base trusses of the tower weighing a total of 60 tons and representing the first level of the 17-level structure.
The first phase of the assembly, considered to be the most complex and labor intensive, involved putting together the four lower levels of the tower and had to ensure the stability of the entire future structure, Tyazhmash said.
According the company, the entire assembly process was split into six phases and was expected to be underway in parallel with the production of the tower's components.
The production of the truss assemblies began in 2018.
A satellite image of Vostochny taken by a Resurs-P satellite on Dec. 27, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos