Russia’s Angara Rocket Celebrates (?) 25th Birthday

Angara-1.2 launch vehicle on pad at Plesetsk. (Credit: Khrunichev)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in 1992, the Russian government — newly shone of the republics that made up the old Soviet Union — had a problem. Or rather, lots and lots of problems. Some of them related to space.

Many of the components for the nation’s launch vehicles and space systems were made in the newly independent Ukraine. Its main spaceport was the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the new nation of Kazakhstan. Russia’s independence in space was at risk.

Russia’s leaders decided that was the nation needed was a brand new launch vehicle, one designed and built in country and launched from the domestic Plestsk military spaceport. With a new rocket, Russia would be completely free of dependence on foreigners for access to space.

And so, Angara was born.

Named after a river in Siberia, Angara would not be a single rocket. It would be a family of modular boosters based around a common core that would be capable of launching payloads ranging from 2 tonnes to 50 tonnes. Name virtually any Soviet rocket still in existence, and there would be an Angara variant that could replace it.

Angara was a dream come true for Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, which won the bid to develop the new booster family in 1994. Or so it seemed.

A funny thing happened on the way to orbit. The collapse of the Soviet Union put the Russian budget into the toilet. It had no money to develop a brand new family of boosters. Soviet-era rockets, including the Khrunichev’s Proton, found a market launching Western satellites for desperately needed hard cash.  The Russians found they could work just fine with newly-independent Ukraine. And Russia signed a long-term lease for use of the Bakionur Cosmodrome with Kazakhstan.

Thus, the development of Angara lagged…and lagged. Khrunichev actually developed and flight tested variants of Angara’s first stage as part of South Korea’s Naro-1 booster, which flew three times between 2009 and 2013. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) supplied the upper stages for the boosters.

It was not until July 9, 2014 — 22 years after the rocket was first conceived — that the first Angara booster launched from Plesetsk. The Angara 1.2PP flew a successful 22-minute suborbital flight test carrying a mass simulator weighing 1,430 kg (3,152 lb). Five months later, a larger Angara A5 placed a 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) mass simulator into orbit.

Despite two successful flights, the Angara launch manifest remains light. In 2016, officials announced plans for an orbital test flight of the Angara A1.2 booster for sometime later this year. However, Russian officials say the launch has been delayed until 2018 due to the payload.

Angara’s first commercial flight is not scheduled until 2020. Last year, South Korea’s KARI has signed a contract to launch its KOMPSAT-6 satellite aboard an Angara A1.2 booster that year. So far, it is the only announced commercial contract for the Angara launcher.

Part of the problem is the continuing popularity of the Proton booster, which the Angara booster is supposed to be replaced. Despite multiple failures in recent years caused by poor quality control, the Proton remains popular for satellite launches. Officials have indicated that Proton will continue to fly into the mid-2020’s.

Last September, Khrunichev and its U.S.-based marketing arm, International Launch Services (ILS), announced two new variants of the Proton Breeze M booster to better compete in the geosynchronous communications market. Last month, ILS announced that a larger 5-meter payload fairing to accommodate larger satellites would be available for Proton boosters beginning in early 2020.

Despite a lack of orders, Russian officials must be expecting an uptick in Angara flights. Last year, they announced plans to construct a second Angara launch complex at Plesetsk so more boosters could be flown from the cosmodrome. There are also plans to build an Angara launch complex at the new Vostochny spaceport in the Russian Far East.

The Angara A5V and Angara-A5P variants are heavy-lift boosters designed to carry Russia’s new Federatsiya (Federation) crew vehicle. Federatsiya will replace the venerable Soyuz spacecraft and fly missions to the moon and deep space. The first automated Federatsiya flight is currently scheduled for 2021, with a crew test set for two years later.

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  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Angara was stillborn. Russians bad at migration off of legacy platforms.

  • JamesG

    Jury is still out on that. Global market changes might finally give them the motivation to streamline their systems.

    And Russians are no worse than we are at giving up hardware investments. They often have the leverage of centralization to force changes, even if its often really driven by the inter-bureau politiks than by actual need.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    By the 2020s Angara will be hopelessly outmoded. Think about a world with F9,A6,Vulcan,NG. That is not a world where Angara has a chance.

  • JamesG

    Depends on the price points and what Russian Gov demand is. Also, our commercial launchers are mercurial. Lots of events could blow one or all of them away.

  • windbourne

    Blow 1, maybe 2, away? Yeah. That is possible.
    All of them? Nope.

  • Barmaglot

    As I understand it, the first samples of Angara-1 and Angara-5 were produced at Khrunichev factory in Moscow, but that factory has encountered the unfortunate combination of sitting on a prized plot of land eyed by real estate developers while their parent organization is struggling with crushing debt, so the series production of Angara is being moved to Polyot in Omsk. This isn’t the only factor accounting for lack of visible activity since the test flights, but it’s a major one.

  • JamesG

    Your TDS is showing.

    Another financial crash will do a good job of stopping every speculative, high-risk NeuSpace venture dead in their tracks.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Except Russia is already in financial crisis…

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Agreed! Vulcan is going to happen (one way or another) because the gubment wants assured access (Won’t put everything in SpaceX basket). As for Blue, Bezos is worth around 77B smackers. He could fund Blue for years riding through any market instability. Short of Bezos losing his heart for it, which I doubt, he isn’t going anywhere. SpaceX is run by Musk who has a lot of qualities but one of them is being so damn brutally dogged he got Tesla/SpaceX through 2008. Maybe Arianespace gets cold feet (but lots of national pride to keep that dev going too). I see very little chance the bulk of that future doesn’t follow through. And of course there is Orbital waiting in the wings for one of these guys to stumble.

    Russia should invest in Stoli because they are going to need it. Nobody is going to put up with metal contaminated modules and bogus parts in engines. Look at Vostochny, you can’t take the corruption out of a corrupt society. They can only milk the Hammer and Sickle engineering so long.

  • JamesG

    Been in one for decades.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    The jury is still out at A6 and NG.

    The A6 is a traditional booster that improves costs fractionally. Must fly with solids, which they finally made monolythic, thanks to Vega. So, it’s basically Euro H3 (which you forgot to mention), nothing more.

    NG is a design driven by no practical purpose. Its configuration is selected out of a desperate attempt to leapfrog their nemesis, which they lag massively at present. I don’t expect a happy outcome for it, sorry.

  • JamesG

    Your glass of Stoli is half empty comrade Be careful you don’t get any Black Swan poop in it.

    Vulcan won’t happen if the Gubment just wants assured access to some mark of Titan/Atlas because it does not have any money to feed the mil-industrial complex any more. Same goes for Arianespace, but even worse because ESA can’t support it alone without commercial launches. SpaceX is always one or two launch failures away from bankruptcy. Much of Bezos’ networth is in Fed monopoly money that at any moment can evaporate faster than LOX on a hot Mojave day. Heaven forbid, but if he kicks the bucket, its unlikely that his heirs will be inclined to continue his Buck Rodgers adventure.

    Mean while the Russians will want/need to maintain their own gubment access to space and strategic rocket forces, and will be able to subsidize it to any degree necessary.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Ironically, Angara itself is a legacy platform now, which they cannot migrate away from. This is why A7 was killed and A5V instituted. There were even proposals floated for a movable launch table that permitted A7 to fly from Vostochnyi, but it was all for naught.

    They main hope is Feniks at this point.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yes, exactly.

  • windbourne

    Well, the GOP is back in Control so, yeah, that is real possibility in terms of another massive financial crash.
    BUT, I do not think that SpaceX, Blue Origin, and maybe Orbital will die.
    1) Orbital is needed for solid rockets/missiles.
    2) SpaceX and BO are going to become SO cheap, that there is little chance that either will die.
    3) ULA stands the BIGGEST chance of dying. While I can see what snarky says about ULA being needed, the fact is, that SX AND BO AND Orbital really are the only ones needed. In fact, living in ULA’s shadow (HQ is just a couple of miles up the road), I am quite concerned about the tacts that Bruno is taking. I think that he is going to kill them since they will not be able to compete with BO (ULA’s vulcan vs SX’s F9/FH combo vs BO’s NG? ZERO chance for vulcan ).
    4) for all of these companies to survive, TRUMP/CONgress really needs to get private space going with multiple space stations AND THE MOON. If Trump/CONgress will allow NASA to help them and then do some service contracts with them, it will allow all of new space to thrive within 4 years.
    In addition, that will help our economy in the same fashion that the internet did.

  • JamesG

    Your post contains a very high percentage of wishful thinking.

  • windbourne

    They were in much better shape prior to their invasion of georgia. W /GOP did nothing while Putin rapped/pillaged through Georgia, but once that happened, it set up the situation for blockaides against them on their invasion of western Ukraine.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Shotwell, said they could absorb another RUD (So you know more about SpaceX then Shotwell). If they got into real trouble they could be recapitalized by Musk’s friends at Google (worst case). Atlas with a new engine is just Vulcan again. Lots of other cost savings by dropping Delta, ACES dropping Hydrazine and the rest. ESA, who cares, but your comment on Bezos makes no sense (basically a cop opt).

  • windbourne

    not really.
    Bigelow and theil are friends with trump and I think (hope?) that NASA will be greenlighted for helping 2 habitats COTS rather than 1.
    From there, service agreements would work.

  • windbourne

    why would NG NOT succeed? It is at least 40 tonnes to orbit, and will offer the biggest fairing of them all?
    Likewise, if it is able to land, like NS, and do at least 6 missions, the price will be well below A6, vulcan, atlas, delta, etc.
    The only LV that will compete on price would be F9/FH, and with that large fairing, I would think that they are going to be in great shape.

  • JamesG

    What else would she say? That they were flying on a financial wing and a prayer?
    Atlas with an new motor is not a clean-sheet design like Vulcan. You aren’t thinking about the way Congress thinks about costs.
    And… you need to go read the reporting statements on AMZN.

    I find it interesting that you guys are willing to pour optimism on Western space actors, while assuming the opposite of Russian….

  • JamesG

    Er… lol.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    She could say “we don’t comment on SpaceX finances, but we are fine”. She did not say that, more specific. No reason to lie and no evidence she lied. I find it odd that you assume Shotwell is a liar yet have confidence in drunk, corrupt Russians.

  • JamesG

    You should read my post again.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    In great shape to launch what, exactly?

  • JamesG

    Blue’s sub-orbital joy ride rocket of course!

  • windbourne

    BTW, what is TDS?

  • JamesG

    What you have.

  • windbourne

    well, if they are cheaper than European, and Russian LVs, due to re-use, then they could launch multiple satellites at once. IOW, just like Europe and Russia once divided the commercial launch business, I could see SX and BO dividing that up between the 2 of them. The same for American gov launches.

  • duheagle

    Present-day Russia is only a fraction of its former imperial Soviet self. It most emphatically does not possess any sort of open-ended ability to “trundle along to any degree necessary.” And it’s perfectly capable of a second implosion as relatively catastrophic as the Soviet collapse. The worse things get in Russia – and they are definitely getting worse – and the more people start to brood on the fact that waiting for Putin to go of natural causes is likely to be a long wait, the more likely the whole Russian situation is to collapse once more, but this time with more blood and fire involved.

    Meanwhile, as noted elsewhere, SpaceX has already handily survived two total losses of mission and would be in an even better position to survive a third. Bezos’s net worth is mostly in Amazon stock. Amazon is a real business and one of the two largest retailers based in the U.S. It’s shares are hardly “Monopoly money” nor does the Fed have anything to do with them.

    You’ve seemed quite chipper and upbeat lately. Now you’re suddenly Gloomy Gus. Did your dog die?

  • duheagle

    People have been saying for most of two decades that Amazon stock is over-valued. Maybe they’ll actually be right some day. But, if I may paraphrase Aragorn, “not this day.”

  • JamesG

    For 2 decades it has been. If anything its gotten to the point where AMZN has gained the market dominance to where the price is maybe justified. Walmart 2.0.

  • JamesG

    My rabbit did. Along with her kits. Thanks for asking.

    The context here was the threats to US private space activities, not that they were going to pass, in comparison to Russia, which is really an Apples to Oranges one, because they are completely different. But many posters here a biased perspective that seem to be coloring their opinion. Which was my point.

    BTW- SpaceX did not “handily survive” the two launch failures. More like it was rocked back on its heels. How many more it can take before getting “SeaLaunched” is something maybe even Musk and Shotwell don’t really know?

  • duheagle

    Compared to the first three consecutive failures of Falcon 1, SpaceX handled CRS-7 and Amos-6 with alacrity, dispatch and financial solidity. And it did handle the Falcon 1 failures even from a position far less favorable than the most recent two. Plus, SpaceX had, and still has, more than adequate reserves to handle a third such. A delicate flower, SpaceX decidedly is not.

  • duheagle

    Trump Derangement Syndrome I should imagine. He’s right about that. You have TDS. But it’s also pretty much completely irrelvant to the current conversation.

  • duheagle

    I don’t find it especially wishful. It assumes a much more central and critical role for government than is remotely likely to actually be the case. But windbourne is a lefty and I make allowances for his dysfunctional statist instincts. The thing he’s least likely to be right about is another financial collapse. The last one was a result of Democratic policies insufficiently opposed by a Republican president who thought he had other more pressing matters to attend to. I don’t see that happening on Trump’s watch, especially since it was bad “real estate” policy that led to said collapse.

  • JamesG

    Because if there is anyone who knows bad real estate, its Donald Trump right?