Angara getting ready for launch
Development of the Angara space launcher is the largest Russian space project included in the Federal space program for 2006-2015. The significance of the project is underlined by the fact that its curator, first vice prime minister Sergey Ivanov, had called Angara the "project of state importance". As of second half of 2009, it can be said that the work has entered the final stage, albeit not without some serious problems.
Research on the new heavy launcher, aimed to replace the Proton rocket, began back in the end of 1980s but was not completed due to harsh economic conditions. After the collapse of Soviet Union, The Russian Ministry of Defense had encountered difficulties in using the Baikonur spaceport on the territory of sovereign Kazakhstan. Many manufacturers of components for space launchers, as well as the boosters themselves (e.g. Zenit-2), found themselves outside Russia. The country faced a real threat to lose independent access to space, especially regarding the geostationary orbit.
In these conditions, in 1992 it was decided to start work on the Angara project: development of the most rational heavy space launcher to be used at the uncompleted Zenit-2 launch pad in the Russian spaceport of Plesetsk. Khrunichev Center was declared the winner in 1994, with the project of Angara-26 two-stage booster with characteristic strap-on fuel tanks. The first stage was to feature an oxygen-kerosene RD-171 engine developed by NPO Energomash, the second stage – oxygen-hydrogen engine designed by KBKhA. Both were modifications of the proven engines used on the ultra-heavy Energia booster. The 640-ton rocket, launched from Plesetsk, could have carried 26 tons of cargo into the low-earth orbit. In 1995 it was decided to build the Angara launch pad on the new Far East spaceport of Svobodny.
Since the beginning the project ran into funding problems. In fact, it only presented interest for the Ministry of Defense, which was actually in need of a heavy booster. Russia’s Space Agency (Rosaviakosmos), on the other hand, was satisfied with the existing launcher line-up and did not want to get involved in a long-term project with unclear prospects. In addition to that, the International Space Station project had changed the priorities of the Russian civil space authority. For a few years, Khrunichev Center had developed Angara on its own with limited participation of the Ministry of Defense.
In 1996-1997 the project had undergone radical changes. The use of hydrogen in the launcher’s main rocket was abandoned in favor of kerosene (although the heavy versions of Angara were still cryogenic), and the unification principle was introduced. During that period, a concept of the Universal Rocket Module was introduced. Approximately by 2001, Angara had gained its now-familiar technical shape. The unification principle was to reduce manufacturing costs for the launchers of various classes.
The space launcher
Currently the Angara family comprises four main models. They are modular and differ in the number and type of Universal Rocket Modules (URM). The modules of both types are equipped with oxygen-kerosene engines: URM-1 with RD-191 engine developed by NPO Energomash, URM-2 with RD-0124A designed by KBKhA.
The heavy Angara-5 version, needed by the Ministry of Defense and ordered in the first place, is in most demand. The light Angara 1.1 and 1.2 launchers are aimed to replaced the Kosmos-3M, Tsiklon and Rokot heptyl launchers. The Angara-3 niche is currently occupied by the Russian-Ukrainian Zenit launcher. However, the Khrunichev Center management is optimistic about its prospects, certain that all members of the launcher family will find their place.
During the last 2-3 years Khrunichev Center had presented two more members of the family – Angara-5P and Angara-7. The first one was positioned as the prospective launcher for piloted spacecraft to be used at Vostochny spaceport, but the contest was won by the consortium of TsSKB Progress, RKK Energiya and Makeev Design Bureau. Angara-7 is the most powerful launcher in the family. Depending on the modification, it is able to put 35-41 tons of payload into the low earth orbit and is designed for lunar piloted programs, heavy automated various-purpose satellites and interplanetary probes. The launcher comprises six URM-1s located around the new increased-diameter central module. The project is solely an initiative of Khrunichev Center and is not financed by the government.
The Angara development had allowed the Khrunichev Center to take part in three international projects. Since December 2004 the company, in cooperation with the Kazakhstan Republic, is working on the Baiterek program, involving Angara-5 commercial launches from Baikonur. Although the project is stalling due to insufficient funding, it still has good chances to succeed because it will allow both parties – Russia and Kazakhstan – to continue the joint use of Baikonur even after the Vostochny spaceport is commissioned.
The company intends to develop a family of light- and medium-class launchers for the Brazilian Southern Cross project. Prospects of this project, which is currently being negotiated, are unclear. However, the development of South Korean KSLV-1 (Korean Space Launch Vehicle), also based on URM-1, has been completed.
Money and hardware
Beginning from 2004, the Angara program had gained stable financing, as well as high-level political support, and the launcher had finally gained shape.
The preparations for flight development tests of the launchers are to start in the end of 2010. The first launch of the light-class Angara-1 rocket is scheduled for the 1st quarter of 2011, with the first launch of the heavy Angara-5 version to follow in the 4th quarter of 2011. The booster assembled at PO Polet facility is to start in a year; the company had joined the Angara family development project in 2009. Production of two bay types for the new launcher is scheduled to start in the autumn of 2009. Currently Polet is preparing for production and conducting technical modernization. 400 new jobs were created at the plant; delivery of 15 high-tech metal-processing centers is expected. Equipment setup and software installation is to be completed by the end of 2009. Overall, the plant is to use over 771.4 million rubles (about $25 million) of budget funds this year: approximately 310 million rubles will be allocated for equipment purchase, while the rest will be spent on reconstruction of production facilities. By 2015 the Omsk-based plant is to produce 60 URM-1 modules for 10 heavy Angara-5 launchers and 10 light Angara A-1.2 launchers. In 2015-2020 the company intends to increase the production volume to 120 modules per year.
Other plants are also preparing for the project. In particular, Proton-PM will invest 4.5 billion rubles in Angara engine production, including 1.5 billion rubles in 2010-2011. The company intends to create about 2 thousand new jobs in 2010-2015 at the plant.
Experimental testing of the RD-191 engine developed by NPO Energomash was practically completed in 2009. 9 development models and 16 test engines were assembled within the framework of the program. 101 static test firings were conducted, totaling 22094 seconds; maximum mean time per engine amounted to 3635 seconds. Currently RD-191 is undergoing finishing development and interdepartamental tests and are ready for shipment.
In 2009 RD-0124A engine had successfully undergone two lengthy static test firings. Construction of the Angara launch pad and technical facility is underway at Plesetsk spaceport.
Successes and problems
Successful development of the project is underlined by several events. First of all, on July 30 the long-expected static test firings of the complete URM-1 module started on the NITs RKP test bench. The tests, conducted according to the Angara-1 first stage flight sequence, were a complete success: all performance ratings were confirmed. Static test firings-2 – certification of the module for operation as an Angara-5 side thruster – are scheduled for autumn, to be followed by static test firings-3 to certify the URM-1 for operation as an Angara-5 main thruster. However, the most important success of the year was the flight testing of URM-1 on a South Korean KSLV-1 (Naro) rocket, launched in the end of August. Although the booster did not put the satellite into orbit, the first stage, developed by Khrunichev Center, performed flawlessly.
Besides the successes, Angara project also faces serious problems, not least of all because of the economic crisis. During the visit of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Khrunichev Center on March 18, Vladimir Nesterov, the company’s general director, had asked him for additional financing of over 10 billion rubles. The funds are needed to ensure the start of Angara development tests before 2011, as the underfunding in 2009 amounted to over 3 billion rubles. Besides, due to the ruble devaluation, the company’s accounts payable had increased sharply: during 2008, dollar debt of Khrunichev Center had decreased from $740 million to $738 million, while the ruble debt had increased from 17 billion rubles to 26 billion rubles. Because of the lack of funding, some work is being delayed. In particular, static test firing of the complete URM-2 was not conducted yet; launch pad construction at Plesetsk is also delayed.
However, in the last few years the Russian government demonstrated increased attention towards the space and rocket industry, allowing to hope that Angara project will be completed, albeit later than planned.
The next steps
Full-scale operation of the Angara launcher is expected to start approximately in 2015. Light Angara-1.2 and heavy Angara-5 rockets are likely to be used in federal civil and military programs, with the latter eventually replacing the current workhorse, Proton-M. However, operation of the medium Angara-3 launcher is likely only in unforeseen circumstances, such as the cease in Zenit-2 production.
Commercial future of the new launcher is much less clear. In order to succeed, it needs a long history of successful launches and acceptable cost – something which Angara will not have during the initial period of operation. Besides, the international market of commercial launches will be filled with competitors – new modifications of European Ariane-5 and Chinese Great Journey-5. New players may also emerge: for example, U.S. SpaceX is offering a heavy Falcon-9 launcher at half the competitors’ cost. Japan is also aiming for this market, bringing the cost of its H-2B to the level of Proton-M.
Internal competition also complicates matters. TsKB Progress had become the head developer of a new Rus-M rocket to be used at Vostochny spaceport. Features of the new rocket’s basic model allow it to compete with Angara-5. Besides, unlike Angara, Rus-M has a large potential for modernization, allowing to develop launchers with payload of 30-40, 50-60 and even 100 tons. Although the capacity of this launcher is somewhat lower, it will probably be cheaper and, unlike its competitor, will be able to be launched from any Soyuz launch pad in Plesetsk, Baikonur and French Guiana.