What the Frak is Going on With Russian Rocketry?

Two Soyuz launchers at Kourou. (Credit: Arianespace)

Today, Parabolic Arc launches the latest chapter in our almost famous “What the Frak?” series with a look at the Russian rocket industry. This will be the first of a series of posts looking at rocketry around the world.

During the past two decades, Russian rocketry has been largely coasting on Soviet-era achievements. However, as the world prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s demise in December, the industry beginning to emerge from that long shadow with new rockets, a new spaceport in the Far East, and a growing series of international partnerships. The goals are to modernize the rocket fleet, to compete on the international launch market, and to free Russia from dependence on Ukrainian rockets and the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Today, we will be examining the new boosters that Russia is developing and the ones that it is phasing out.

The chart and table below show four rockets that Russia is now developing: Rus-M, Angara 5, Angara 1.2, and Soyuz-1. The first three are new rockets; the fourth, Soyuz-1, is a light version of the venerable Soviet-era booster outfitted with NK-33 engines on the first stage.

Launch Vehicle

Launch Site(s)

Launch Date

Kg to LEO






Angara 5Plesetsk, Vostochny, Kazakhstan




Angara 1.2Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny20133700


Soyuz-1Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny20122850

Credit: Parabolic Arc/Edward Ellegood

As you can see, the Russians will continue to use Baikonur in Kazakhstan for some of these flights. However, the combination of Plesetsk and the new Vostochy spaceport, which is set to come on line in 2015, will give Russia the ability to launch all of its satellites from its own territory. The nation will continue to use Baikonur under its lease, with operations there shifting to commercial flights.

Let’s take a closer look at the rockets.


The Angara rocket family. (Credit: Allocer)

Name: Angara
A family of light to super heavy-lift rockets
Payload to LEO:
  2,000 to 75,000 kg
Stages:  2 (light), 3 (medium, heavy)
first stage, RD-191 (kerosene/LOX);  upper stages: Breeze-KM, Block I,  KVRB
First Launches:
2013 (Angara 1.2, Angara 5A)
Commercial Service:
Launch Sites:
Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny
Builder: Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre

Variants:Angara has a number of variants, which will be replacing the existing boosters shown in the chart below:

Launch Vehicle


Kg to LEO

1Angara 7

45000 – 75000


Angara 5Proton (A)18000 – 28500


Angara 3Zenit (B)14600


Angara 1.2Cyclone-3 (C)3700


Angara 1.1Rockot (D), Kosmos-3 (E)2000

Angara will form the core of the Russian rocket program and replace a number of existing rockets, several of them from the Ukraine. The overall goal is to give Russia autonomy in launch vehicles, a status it lost when the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago. The Russians will phase out the use of five existing launch vehicles, including the Ukrainian Zenit and Cyclone-3 rockets. The Angara’s kerosene/LOX engine first stage also burns cleaner than some of the engines used on the Cyclone-3.

The rockets have been under development for many years; at one point, they were supposed to fly in the early 2000s.  In recent years, it has been delayed by a shortage of funds for a new launch pad at Plesetsk and wrangling between Russia and Kazahkstan over the construction of the Baiterek launch complex at Baikonur. However, the ground infrastructure issues appear to have been resolved at Plesetsk, and the new rockets now appear to be on course for testing in 2013.

A less powerful version of the new first-stage RD-191 engine has been tested twice on South Korea’s Naro-1 rocket. A third Naro-1 test is scheduled for 2012.

Russia's new six-seat Soyuz replacement. Credit: Kamov


Name: Rus-M
Human-rated rocket for next-generation human space transport
Payload to LEO:
  23,800 kg
Stages:  2
  3 RD-180 (first stage), 2 RD-0146 (second stage)
First Launch:
2015 (no crew)
Human Launches:
Launch Site:
Builder: TsSKB-Progress

This new human-rated rocket will carry Russian cosmonauts into space aboard their new six-seat Soyuz replacement, the PPTS (Prospective Piloted Transport System), in about seven years from now.  Plans call for an initial test launch in 2015, followed by human crews flying about three years later.  Some expert believe that schedule is optimistic by several years. However, since the reliable Soyuz rocket and spacecraft continue to fly, there is not a huge rush to field replacements.

The rocket is being designed to be upgraded to carry much heavier payloads of 50 to 60 metric tons into low Earth orbit.  That would put the rocket into competition with the Angara 7 variants that Khrunichev wants to build.

Russian Soyuz-1 booster. Credit: Pavel Kolotilov


Name: Soyuz-1
Stripped down version of the Soyuz 2.1b
Payload to LEO:
2,850 kg
Stages:  2
  NK-33 engines (first stage), standard Soyuz upper stage
First Launch:
Launch Sites:
Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny
Builder: TsSKB-Progress

The Soyuz-1 is a stripped down version of the Soyuz-2.1b rocket with its booster rockets removed and its first stage refitted with NK-33 engines originally built for the Soviet lunar program. The second stage remains the same as the Soyuz-2.1b.

The new medium-class rocket will be capable of lifting payloads of 2,800 kilograms to low Earth orbit from Plesetsk and 2,850 kilograms to LEO from Baikonur. Russia will also launch the rocket from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome once it becomes operational later in this decade.