Russia Launches Angara 5 from Vostochny For First Time

Russia Launches Angara 5 from Vostochny For First Time

Russia successfully launched its relatively new Angara 5 rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Siberia today. Development of the Angara series of rockets and the Vostochny launch site have suffered years of delays and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago all but ended its commercial space launch business. Still, the launch is a step forward for Russian space launch capabilities.

The successful launch at 09:00 UTC (12:00 pm Moscow Time) was Angara 5’s first from Vostochny and followed scrubs on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Liftoff of Russia’s Angara V heavy-lift rocket on its first flight from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, April 11, 2024. Screengrab.

The launch comes one day before Russia celebrates Cosmonautics Day commemorating the launch of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, the first human to orbit Earth. “Yuri’s Night” events are held globally in recognition of that watershed moment in the history of humanity.

Angara 5 is the heavy-lift version of Russia’s new family of rockets to replace those developed during the Soviet era. The variant launched today can put 24.5 tons into low Earth orbit according to Russia’s state news agency TASS, and more capable versions are planned.

In decades past, Russia had an admirable fleet of space launch vehicles including the heavy-lift Proton. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia successfully marketed the then-reliable Proton on the commercial market at attractive prices. Proton was based on old technology, however, and lost its luster after a series of failures.

Proton is still in use, but Russia pivoted to development of a new, modern family of rockets, Angara. In 2014, a suborbital test flight of the smallest version, Angara 1.2, was expected to augur in a new era of Russian rockets. It was quickly followed by the first test flight of the largest version, Angara 5, in December 2014, but it was six more years before a second Angara 5 test flight took place in December 2020. A third in December 2021 suffered an upper stage failure.

All of those were from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia near the Arctic Circle, but Russia’s plans for Angara included use of a new site, Vostochny, in Siberia.

The Soviet Union’s two main launch sites were Plesetsk and the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Once Kazakhstan became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it required Russia to pay to lease it. Russia became determined to build a new launch site within its own borders to reduce dependence on Baikonur.

The effort suffered many delays and although the first launch took place in 2016, Russia remains reliant on Baikonur for many launches including sending crews and cargo to the International Space Station. Plesetsk is still used for most launches into polar orbits, especially military missions.

Vostochny is used occasionally, but plans to ramp up activity there especially for commercial launches evaporated after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Commercial companies shunned Russia not only because of sanctions imposed by Western nations, but Russia’s consequent actions toward customers like OneWeb.

Building the launch pad for Angara 5 also suffered delays, but today it all came together after a scrub on Tuesday due to a failure in the oxidizer’s tank pressurization system and yesterday because of a problem with the engine start system according to TASS.

Anatoly Zak of told via email that the launch was “spectacular,” but with Russia cut off from the commercial market and domestic Russia launches few and far between it is only an “incremental step forward.”

This was certainly a spectacular launch but far from anything revolutionary. After 30 years of development and 10 years of flight testing, Angara-5 made its fourth flight still without any appropriate payload. The introduction of the new launch pad in Vostochny gives it an easier access to the geostationary orbit, but Russia is now isolated from the international commercial launch market, so Angara has to wait for relatively rare domestic, mainly military payloads, which are typically years behind schedule due to sanctions. The crew vehicle designed for Angara is also years away. So, it is an incremental step forward. — Anatoly Zak


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