Russia Launches Angara-5 After Six Year Hiatus

Russia Launches Angara-5 After Six Year Hiatus

Russia conducted a second test flight of its new Angara-5 rocket today almost exactly six years after the first. The head of Russia’s space agency excitedly exclaimed “It flies, damn it” in a tweet, perhaps conveying a sense of frustration at how long it has taken. He said there will be two Angara-5 launches next year as Russia tries to regain its once storied reputation in the space launch business.

Like the first test in December 2014, today’s took place from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome and used a Briz-M upper stage to place a mass simulator into orbit.

Dmitri Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, Russia’s space state corporation, and Roscosmos itself issued a number of tweets including video of the launch from several different angles after the fact. A brief video of the first seconds of the launch, at 08:50 Moscow Time (12:50 am EST), was posted on YouTube.

Rogozin’s first tweet was: “It’s flying, damn it.”

Another announced that the Briz-M upper stage placed the “mass model” into the calculated orbit and “The mission has been successfully completed” with launch videos.

Replying to a question from “Ilya” about when the next Angara launch would take place, Rogozin said there would be two next year, but did not provide any other details.

RIA Novosti tweeted a video showing some of the technical specifications of Angara-5 compared to Proton-M, an animation of the launch sequence, plans for other versions of the rocket, and the anticipated launch of Luna 28, a lunar sample return mission in 2027.

Back in 2014, Rogozin was Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of defense and space. He and Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed that Angara-5 launch as heralding a new era in Russian space launch. A family of Angara rockets with varying capabilities and environmentally friendly fuels is intended to replace the venerable Proton rockets and others from the Soviet era, but their development has been repeatedly delayed.

Once known for its reliability, Proton’s reputation has fallen since a series of failures beginning in 2010. Production problems due at least in part to the depletion of a skilled workforce are often cited as the fundamental cause.

The Angara family of rockets will be launched from Plesetsk and Russia’s newest launch site in Russia’s far east, Vostochny. Both are on Russian soil and would begin to free Russia from its dependency on use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Built when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, Russia now must pay to use it since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991.

Russian space expert Anatoly Zak of told that today’s launch is the “closest the post-Soviet Russia” has gotten to replacing Proton “with at least a comparable vehicle based inside the Russian territory and using less toxic propellant components.”

However, he added, Roscosmos has a long way to go to cut production costs and make the vehicle “truly operational” and capable of attracting commercial users.

Russia’s news agency TASS reported in June that Angara’s manufacturer, the Khrunichev Space Center, is aiming to lower the cost “from 7 billion rubles ($100 million) to 4 billion rubles ($57 million) by 2024.”

Attracting commercial users also means launching from Vostochny rather than Plesetsk.  Commercial customers typically want satellites inserted into geostationary orbit above the equator. That is a long haul from Plesetsk at 62.9 degrees North latitude compared to Vostochny at 51.9 degrees North (Baikonur is at 45.6 degrees North). Russia’s plans to build an Angara pad at Vostochny also have been repeatedly delayed although some progress was made this year.

Zak writes on his website that to be competitive Angara’s payload capacity also must grow and Russia is planning an upgraded Angara-5M that could deliver 27.1 metric tons to low Earth orbit. That would put it roughly in the same class as the U.S. Delta IV Heavy (28.8 MT).

This second launch was originally planned for 2016 and intended to carry an actual satellite, not a mass simulator, Zak writes, but was delayed by manufacturing problems.

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