Russia Successfully Launches Maiden Flight of Soyuz 2-1v

Russian Soyuz-1 booster. Credit: Pavel Kolotilov
Russian Soyuz-1 booster. Credit: Pavel Kolotilov

A Russian Soyuz 2-1v lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Saturday, successfully orbiting a satellite and two calibration spheres in the first launch of the new booster.

The “light” launch vehicle, which is designed to lift small payloads, is a significantly modified version of the venerable Soyuz launch vehicle that has been a mainstay of Soviet and Russian space programs since 1966.It maintains a similar outward appearance, but it is very different on the inside.

Modifications include the use of a NK-33 engine in the first stage, the elimination of four first-stage booster rockets, and the use of a Volga upper stage. The NK-33 engines are left over from the Soviet program to land men on the moon, which was canceled in the early 1970’s.

For its maiden launch, the Soyuz 2-1v orbited two SKRL-756 calibration satellites and the AIST-1 micro-satellite.

The new launch vehicle is capable of orbiting payloads weighing between 2,800 to 2,850 kg to low Earth orbit depending whether it is launched from the Plesetsk or Baikonur cosmodromes. Plans call for launching the booster from the new Vostochny spaceport now being constructed in the Russian Far East.

The Soyuz 2-1v was the 80th orbital launch of 2013 worldwide. There are no additional launches planned for the rest of the year.

  • Aerospike

    I wonder about the future of Soyuz “light” as well as Antares once the NK-33 stockpile runs out? As far as I know restarting production isn’t likely to happen (despite some talk about it).

  • Douglas Messier

    If Orbital would write a check, NK-33 production could be restarted. That’s the word from Aerojet Rocketdyne, I believe. The question is what the size of the check would be. I imagine it is far cheaper to try to purchase existing RD-180s off the assembly line. That depends on the result of their lawsuit against ULA and RD Amross which don’t want to give up their exclusive arrangement.

    I don’t know how many NK-33s exist in Russia, but the Soyuz light vehicle only uses one for the first stage. So they could last for quite a while if there is a low or moderate launch rate. The demand for launches will probably factor highly as to whether the program continues beyond the existing stockpile.

    The supplies of two other small launch vehicles — Dnepr and Rockot — are limited because these are converted ICBMs. Eventually they’re going to run out of these vehicles and look for a replacement. The Soyuz 2-1v could suffice for some smaller payload.

    The Angara 1.1 variant has roughly the same payload capacity of as the Soyuz 2-1v. They’re supposed to launch a somewhat larger Angara 1.2 sometime in the spring — if the latest schedule holds. It’s unclear just how competitive or reliable the Angara family of rockets will be at this point. Angara is built by Khrunichev — the source of much of Russia’s recent launch failure headaches.

  • Aerospike

    I know Aerojet has a license to produce the engines, but have they ever done that before or are all of the currently available AJ-26s “reused” and modified NK-33s? I just wonder how fast they could realistically (re)start production? As far as I know it’s not like they have the assembly line in standby just waiting for an order.

    According to wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NK-33 ), about 150 NK-33 have survived from the N1 program, so as long as they only use them for single engine Soyuz 2-1v flights, those should last for a few years.

  • mattmcc80

    That’s the big question regarding Orbital’s relationship with the NK-33, and by extension, the question of how sustainable the Antares is. They have enough engines allocated to fulfil their CRS obligations, but after that it becomes less clear. Aerojet doesn’t have a reason to produce new engines as long as they can refurbish old ones. Having the license is one thing, but they haven’t yet demonstrated that they actually can produce new NK-33/AJ-26’s.