Proton cheaper, Angara heavier, new super-heavy rocket more tangible

Following meeting with Vladimir Putin, Igor Komarov, chief of Russian Federal Space Agency, told media that Roscosmos continued work on a new super-heavy rocket. Moreover, it has already chosen its design and manufacturer.

Although Komarov did not disclose name of the manufacturer, it is supposed that this company is RSC Energia, which offered the most suitable design that corresponds to given criteria. “We have not rejected our super-heavy rocket plans. We have identified its basic manufacturer and continue to work in this direction,” Komarov told to TASS Agency (Rus).

In parallel to a super-heavy launcher, Roscosmos plans to upgrade heavy Angara-A5 in order to have a rocket with almost 35 ton of payload capacity. Angara-A5V, upgraded and the heaviest rocket of Angara family, will employ a new liquid oxygen - liquid kerosene upper stage instead of Briz-M stage, used on top of Angara-A5. Its maiden flight is expected for 2024-2025 from Vostochny spaceport.

Dmitry Rogozin shows President Putin models of heavy Angara and crewed Angara. Credit: Kremlin.ru
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At the current development stage, it is planned that Russian lunar exploration program will be based on Angara-A5V, not a super-heavy launcher. Furthermore, manned mission to the Moon may involve so-called 'dual-launch' scheme, when cosmonauts are to be orbited into low-Earth orbit using one launch vehicle, and their lunar spaceship with a landing module using another one.

Komarov admitted that the federal space program budget included 600 billion rubles (near $11.8 billion under current conversion rate) for the full development of a super-heavy rocket. Usage of the new Angara upper stage combined with dual-launch scheme will possibly result in tenfold reduction of development efforts cost of a lunar mission.

In this situation SpaceDigest couldn't find an answer to a question why Russia needs a super-heavy launcher, if its manned spaceflight program plans for the nearest two decades were reported to be only Moon exploration. Is it really just to compete and not be worse than NASA's SLS and a Chinese heaviest rocket?

Why Russia needs a super-heavy launcher, if its manned spaceflight program plans for the nearest two decades were reported to be only Moon exploration?

Anyway, timetable for the Russian lunar exploration program foresees the first unmanned mission to the Moon in 2028-2029, with a manned mission and lunar landing to be performed the following year.

According to Komarov, next-generation crewed spaceship, to be used in Russian lunar and deep-space missions, currently being developed by Khrunichev State Space Center. Its first missions now scheduled for 2021 and 2024. During visit of Vice-premier-minister Dmitry Rogozin to RSC Energia manufacturing facilities, there were taken some photos of a model of the new spaceship:

Talking about commercial launch activity, Komarov told TASS agency that Proton-M launch costs were reduced from $95 million to $70 million over the past year due to Khrunichev State Space Center reforming. He added that International Launch Services (ILS), provider of Proton and Angara commercial launch services, has remained a profitable venture.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Rogozin promised President Putin that Angara cost will be less than of Proton-M. “It [Angara] is more advanced, environmentally friendly, and even cheaper [than Proton-M]," he noted.

“It [Angara] is more advanced, environmentally friendly, and even cheaper than Proton-M..." Dmitry Rogozin, Vice-premier-minister in the Russian government

In a trilateral meeting held on April 13, Putin, Rogozin and Komarov also spoke about Russian orbital satellite constellation. Rogozin admitted that the number of operational national satellites in orbit has raised in 2014 by 17 spacecraft and reached 137, but this is still less than China's constellation and far less than of the US.

On the other side he emphasized on success of Glonass navigation system completion. Currently it consists of 29 orbital satellites (24 operational and 5 back-up) that provides accuracy of 2,6 m. By 2020, Rogozin said, usage of new-generation Glonass-K spacecraft will allow to improve it to 0.6 m.

Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Rogozin and Igor Komarov discussing Russia's space industry. Credit: Kremlin.ru
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Rogozin and Komarov said about Russia's launch services leadership retaining (38 launches conducted in 2014, which is 36% of the world's market) and international cooperation efforts as well. Putin asked them to achieve at least three goals:

  • Double average satellite lifetime from current 7.5 years;
  • Ensure compliance of Vostochny spaceport construction terms with the agreed schedule, and conduct first launch of Soyuz-2 from Vostochny by the end of 2015;
  • Save money.

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