Roscosmos Cancels Rus-M Rocket in Favor of Upgraded Soyuz

Roscosmos has canceled its planned Rus-M rocket and will launch its new six-person Soyuz replacement spacecraft on an upgraded Soyuz-2 rocket instead, according to space agency officials.

“We have come to the conclusion that we do not need a new rocket, we can continue using those we already have,” Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin told Russian media.

The two-stage rocket was designed to replace the venerable Soyuz booster. Built by Energia, Rus-M was schedule to begin test flights from the new Vostochny spaceport in the Far East beginning around 2015. Human missions would have followed three years later.

Instead, the Soyuz-2 rocket will be the first to fly from Vostochny, according to Roscosmos Deputy Head Vitaly Davydov. Engineers plan to upgrade the rocket to carry as much as ten metric tons of cargo into low Earth orbit. Flights with the new spacecraft could begin in 2018.

Davydov added that no decision has been made on launching the new Angara rocket from Vostochny. Officials will decide after test flights of the rocket have been completed.

The first test launch of the Angara 1.2 rocket, which can lift 3.7 metric tons into low Earth orbit (LEO), is scheduled for the second half of 2013 from a new launch complex at Plesetsk. If successful, the flight will be followed by a test of heavier Angara 5, which can lift between 18-28.5 metric tons to LEO depending upon which version is used.

Construction of a second Angara launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is running 18 months behind schedule and will not be completed until 2014.

Angara is a modular family of rockets designed to replace several existing boosters. The largest, Angara 7, will be able to send a payload of 40.5 metric tons to LEO. The first Angara was supposed to fly by the mid-2000s, but the program has suffered numerous delays due to funding and other issues.

UPDATE — Editor’s Note: Cancelling Rus-M will save Roscosmos a lot of money and effort and reduces the number of projects on its already crowded plate. It was always a bit of a mystery why Russia was developing both the Angara and the Rus-M, which have similar capabilities.Especially since there didn’t seem to be enough money for the Angara, which has been repeatedly delayed. There was growing skepticism about Rus-M being able to meet its 2015 and 2018 launch dates.

Popovkin has said that he wants to reduce the amount of funds being spent by Roscosmos on its human spaceflight program in order to run a more balanced space effort. Cutting Rus-M goes a long way toward that goal.

Although the media reports I’ve seen mention an upgraded Soyuz carrying Russia’s new human spacecraft, Anatoly Zak at Russian Space Web thinks Popovkin was hinting at Angara when he said that Roscosmos would rely on existing rockets. A human-rated Angara would fit the bill nicely. And it might be cheaper than trying to upgrade the Soyuz for a six-person spacecraft. We’ll see what happens.

  • Doug,

    Angara only has a military launch pad at Plesetsk that might be ready in 2013. The Angara launch pad at Baikonaur is not funded, and will not happen.

    The Soyuz 2 rocket upgrades can easily launch over 20-tons payload to LEO. The Yamal booster concept replaces the 1st stage and booster engines of the Soyuz with NK-33 or RD-191 derivative engines having twice the thrust. The Soyuz 2-1V flight in April 2012, will demo this well defined upgrade path soon.

    The funny looking side boosters on the Soyuz will be replaced by cylindrical 2.66-meter diameter boosters that are extensions of the 2.66-meter Soyuz upper stage tankage. They will carry 76.5-tons fuel instead of the 37 tons fuel carried in existing Soyuz boosters.

    The Soyuz 2 after these upgrades will start to resemble the newly upgraded Chinese Long March 2F/H rocket that will become China’s manned launcher starting with Shenzhou 8 this year.

  • Thanks for the insights.

    I did a bit of searching and found this description of the Yamal booster concept:

    http://www.b14643.de/Spacerockets_1/East_Europe_2/Yamal/Description/Frame.htm

  • Doug,

    That is a good description of the ongoing “Yamal” upgrades to the Soyuz-2 rocket, but it is from 10 years ago.

    RSC Energia has acquired NPO Energomash recently, so they have better access to the RD-191 engine. The new RD-191 engine has also recently finished its test program and was successfully used twice on the Korean launch vehicles. The current plan is to use a derivative of RD-191 called the RD-193 on the Yamal/Soyuz-2 booster stages.

    The Russians have no money, so they are using the “free” inventory of NK-33 engines for their initial Soyuz 2-1V and Soyuz 2-3 rockets, but an upgrade of NK-33 to 200-ton thrust is a fantasy. The RD-191 is a real engine and it is better performance than NK-33.

    If you use the RD-191/RD-193 engines in the 2.66-meter diameter booster stages that will be demonstrated on the Soyuz 2-1V in April 2012, then you have a Yamal/Soyuz-2 rocket using existing manufacturing tools that can evolve to over 25-ton to LEO payloads.

    Basically the Yamal/Soyuz-2 will look like the Krunichev Angara rockets that cluster RD-191 engines in 2.9-meter diameter booster cores.

    Because the Russians have no money, they will drag this upgrade out over the next 20 years instead of the next 20 months. The Russians could do this upgrade in under 2 years if they wanted.