Russians Say N(ot)yet to Reusable Rockets

Roscosmos_logoIt looks as if Roscosmos will not be following Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos down the road of reusable rockets. Instead, the newly privatized company will spend the next decade developing a new medium-lift launch vehicle that will serve as the foundation of a super-heavy booster.

That’s the word on the latest draft of Russia’s incredibly shrinking space budget. With its revenues battered by low oil prices, the government has cut back planned spending for 2016-2025 from 2 trillion rubles ($24.4 billion) to 1.4 trillion rubles ($17.1 billion). The government might allocate an additional 115 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) after 2021, TASS reports.

Reuters reports the sharp cutback has forced the postponement of several major initiatives designed to revive the country’s struggling space program, including an effort to produce a reusable rocket.

“Russia is certain to implement this project, but at the moment the launch of a booster rocket with a reusable first stage is not economically viable,” local media cited [Roscomos General Director Igor] Komarov as saying. He did not elaborate.

A Roscosmos spokesman told Reuters the agency would return to the matter after 2025.

One program that did survive the budget cutbacks largely unscathed is the Phoenix rocket. TASS reports:

Under the new federal space program, the work to develop a medium-class new-generation space and rocket system (the Phoenix project) will begin from 2018. The Phoenix rocket is designed to deliver a payload of up to 17 tonnes to a low orbit (including as part of a manned flight program) and up to 2.5 tonnes to a geostationary orbit with the help of a booster.

The experimental tests of the rocket’s key elements are expected to be completed on the ground in 2025.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said in late December that Russia had started work to create a super-heavy rocket with Phoenix as its first stage. This rocket will have a lifting capacity of over 100 tonnes.

A source in the rocket and space industry earlier told TASS that Phoenix was considered as scientific and technical groundwork for developing a new carrier rocket for a manned flight program with the dimensions of the Zenit rocket.

The budget for the new booster has been set at 29.3 billion rubles ($358 million) under the latest draft of Roscosmos’ 10-year spending plan.

  • JS_faster

    Probably just a pragmatic acceptance that they don’t have the money to stop and redesign the programs they already have underway. Which is a shame. Hypothetically, the architecture of the venerable Soyuz and Angara launcher could make modifying the side boosters for downrange soft landings and reuse relatively easy.

  • Larry J

    Russia has approved development of a replacement for the venerable Soyuz rocket family. The new family is, according to this linked article, called Soyuz-5. It looks somewhat redundant to Angara. This is the Phoenix (Feniks) rocket mentioned in this article.

    Eventually, they may attempt to add recovery and reuse to their rockets but they may not have the money to do that now. I’ve read they’re considering a glide-back and horizontal landing strategy for recovery.

  • JS_faster

    At the current trajectory of funding, it will probably never be built much less fly. Especially if reusable development makes it “So last century”…

  • stoffer

    Yeah, I don’t get it. Angara seems pretty successful, modern and though through. Reusability of the first stage of Angara could be achieved by adding restart capability for the main engine for reentry and small vernier for landing on the surface to avoid the hoverslam. Hoverslam works for SpaceX because they have 9 engines at the 1st stage, so they can throttle down to 1/10 of the launch trust of the stage. Of course, there would be a performance penalty, but it would be acceptable. They should at least try controlled reentry of the first stage and a parachute landing of the stage for post-flight analysis.

  • Solartear

    The Phoenix / Soyuz-5 is interesting, as its specifications predate any knowledge of BE-4 and Raptor, but is similar thrust and uses methane. Kind of convergent evolution. By 2020 we should see others (JAXA,ESA,…) heading down this pathway seriously.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I guess Baikal is not at as high a TRL as I thought it was. I expected the Russians to pick it back up.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Please do not “kille me, but here are some fun stuff aside the topic! Better this fight between USA and Russia as real one! I hope you agree!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3jV93rNils

  • Larry J

    Angara uses common cores to build rockets of different capabilities. The goal is to replace multiple boosters with a common, modular design. It appears the Soyuz-5 (Feniks) uses the same approach. Perhaps the Russians want two different rocket families to have assured access to space just as the Air Force does. Should you go to a single rocket family and it suffers a serious malfunction in one of the cores, all of the rockets in the family would end up being grounded until the problem is fixed.

    As for reusability, they might try some form of booster glideback to a horizontal landing, or perhaps just try and recover the engines like what ULA is proposing for the Vulcan. In the meantime, they need to get the rockets flying first. They can evolve their designs just as SpaceX has done for the past several years.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    No, I want to see the full M-1’s vs T-80’s slugfest at the Fulda Gap. Anything else is just rubbish.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Do you agree? Why not let decide a war situation by those 42 men, instead involving millions of soldiers?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I’ll respond off list. This is not the subject, or the place. It was rude of me to reply. Sorry Doug.

  • I don’t understand this, I’ve tried to come at it from several angles and it never makes sense.

    Is Vostochnii a dog and they are going to get away from small diameter Angara cores that can be transported by air? No – the diameter of the common core seems to be the same (3.6m).
    Are they going to reuse the tooling from Angara and switch to Methane and rename it Soyuz-5 as a marketing gimmick? No – the production companies are different and they are talking about retooling.
    Are they honestly talking about having 2 overlapping vehicles that do the same thing? Probably not – they don’t have the money.
    Is this an internal politics thing of getting the work for your own design company? Maybe, but again the money thing comes back because it all comes from the same pot of superagency money.

    Either I’m missing something fundamental here (like the similar diameters) or this doesn’t make sense and won’t be built (to completion).

  • JS_faster

    Just a bunch of flesh wounds really.

  • Snofru Chufu

    It does not like as were very sophisticated fighting styles applied.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    You’re missing that Angara’s core booster is very small. Its diameter is 2.9m. The URM-2 is a 3.6m diameter stage, but that’s merely an optional upper stage. It occured to them that Angara’s cores cannot form a big enough rocket.

    Another interesting feature of Feniks is the intention to fly from re-purposed Soyuz pads. The exercise of converting the pad 35/1 for Angara was so monstrously expensive that it drove home the lesson not to ignore or handwave away the cost of the ground infrastructure.

  • Then that explains it. An undersized 2.9m common core is pretty small by modern standards. Atlas V is 3.8 by comparison.

    If they are only planning 1 pad in Vostochnii (classic Soyuz), are they admitting that place is a turkey? What plane are the Russians using to transport the Angara cores? (not that it’ll matter if they only are launching from Baikonur or Plesetsk) If it’s an AN-124, then it’ll be fine to either fly to Vostochnii or train hauling it to Baikonur/Plesetsk.

    So Angara is (notionally) the light-medium launch and Soyuz-5 would be medium-heavy? Still seems like too much overlap to me.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    A pad for A5 is still planned in V. There were some issues with trying to combine it with the A7 pad, using moving adapter rings. I expect that budget issues will make them build a normal A5 pad, and then put a taller tower on top to support A5V. The beginning of the construction was moved right to 2017 in the latest budget truncation in December.

    They could not resist to tweak a good thing a bit and fly the existing rocket. A5 in Vostochnyi is going to fly with Blok DM instead of Briz, because of the emphasis on the ecology at the site. Presuming they even complete the launch pad, ever. Fortunately at least the MIK was built using the old Rus’ project and is easy to adapt.

    Angara is transported by rail. Only upper stages (e.g. “acceleration blocks”) are flown in, using the protocols of spacecraft.

    In Russian nomenclature, A1 is light, A3 is medium, and A5 is heavy. Feniks 5.1 is medium, Feniks 5.2 is heavy (although the configuration changes drastically seemingly every month).

  • JS_faster

    Actually the intention is to streamline into one single man-rated quality modular launch system from the now 3, Soyuz/Progress, and Angara.

  • I realize this response is “forever ago” in Internet terms, but I was just reading Anatily Zak and his info is that a 3.8x25m stage is what can fit on the Russian rail system to Vostochnii. So that is going to be one of the limiting factors in Russian launch capability for decades to come: rail intrastructure.

    Of course this isn’t much different from the US. The Intercostal Waterway ensures all large diameter rockets will be built in the eastern half of the US, while the rail limitations determine how big Shuttle (and SLS) solid booster segments can be.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Zak is about right, but the point is, Angara’s URM-1 is significantly undersized versus the railway limitations.