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.
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.
New contractors are bidding for the project
On February 20, theBell.io web site reported that the Crocus Group construction company could get the lucrative contract for the Angara pad in Vostochny. The company is led by Aras Agalarov, infamous for his family's involvement in the effort of the Russian government to elect Donald Trump the president of the United States. According to the publication, the talks between Roskosmos and Crocus Group were still ongoing at the time. Crocus apparently had no experience in building space-related infrastructure, but it has been previously involved in the construction of stadiums in various regions of Russia and other federally funded facilities in the Russian Far East.
According to the Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin, the necessary funds for the second phase of construction in Vostochny were secured on March 20.
In an interview with the Rossiya-24 TV channel on March 22, Rogozin said that besides Crocus Group, two other companies had been in final negotiations with State Corporation for a role of the prime contractor: Stroitransgaz and Stroigazmontazh. One of these companies was ready to confirm its readiness to mobilize the workforce and equipment for in-time completion of the facility before the end of 2023, Rogozin said.
Rogozin also said that during the short-lived contract with PSO Kazan, which was in final stage of nullification, Roskosmos had paid the company small amount of money which allowed it to clear the site for the construction of the Angara pad and order from the 31st research institute of the Ministry of Defense to produce the design and financial documentation for the pad.
According to Rogozin, the design documentation was almost ready, but he would not authorize the actual construction at the Angara site until all the design documentation for the facility was ready, remembering a lesson from the first phase of the Vostochny's development, when changes were required on already erected facilities.
At the time, Rogozin promised to begin the construction at the end of April or beginning of May 2019. Rogozin also promised to report on the status of the second phase of Vostochny to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev before March 30.
On May 24, the Russian government published a newly signed order by President Putin, approving the 19-member commission led by a Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko to supervise the development of the Vostochny spaceport.
On May 31, 2019, Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin posted this photo captioned "Echelons are heading to Vostochny".
Roskosmos State Corporation apparently gave the green light to build the launch pad for the Angara rocket at Vostochny Cosmodrome to PSO Kazan, the same contractor that had been declared unfit for that work less than five months earlier. On May 31, the official TASS news agency, quoting unnamed sources in the construction business, reported that the troubled company would continue the project and its contract with Roskosmos had remained in force. According to TASS, the issues preventing PSO Kazan to fulfill the agreement with Roskosmos were resolved and the company was now shipping construction equipment to Vostochny, while some work at the Angara launch site had already started.
The TASS report coincided with a statement on Twitter by Roskosmos Head Dmitry Rogozin, saying "echelons are heading to Vostochny," though, ironically, the picture accompanying the cryptic declaration showed platforms with road equipment at a dilapidated railway terminal.
Around the same time, Roskosmos and PSO Kazan reportedly confirmed to the Russian media that the contract for the Angara pad had still been in place. (866) Independent observers were puzzled by a sudden about-face and wondered whether Roskosmos had such a toxic reputation in the construction business that it had failed to attract any other contender for the job and, as a result, the State Corporation had no choice but to keep the original contractor on the hook.
On June 23, Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin posted a video of excavation work at the Angara launch site, adding that the mobilization of construction workers and machinery for the project was ongoing. Rogozin also promised that the concrete work at the future pad would begin sometime in the Fall (of 2019).
A satellite image of Vostochny taken by a Resurs-P satellite on Dec. 27, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
A satellite image of Vostochny on Jan. 18, 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos