Angara Won’t Replace Proton Until 2024

Inaugural Angara A5 launch (Credit: Khrunichev)

It took Russia about 20 years to develop its Angara rocket. Now it appears it will take 10 years for the booster to fully replace the Proton rocket.

That’s the word from Yuri Koptev, who chairs the the science and engineering council of Rostec Corporation. He predicts the venerable Proton, which first flew in 1965, won’t be phased out in favor of Angara until 2024 at the earliest.

Koptev said one of the reasons for the decision in favor of using Angara was ecological. Kazakhstan, where the Baikonur space site is located, has repeatedly criticized Proton for not being ecologically friendly. As far as the costs of the new rocket, they will go down in the long term as technologies are improved and lower labor intensity is achieved.

“It is true that at the moment the rocket is far more costly than the Proton, but it will not be so forever,” Koptev explained.

Proton is powered by dinitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, which are toxic.  Angara is powered by cleaner RP-1 and liquid oxygen.

Angara is a family of rockets built around a central core with strap-on boosters. They are capable of orbiting payloads weighing from 3.8 metric tons to 18 metric tons into low Earth orbit depending upon the number of first-stage boosters.

Plans for Angara were first drawn up in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Contracts for the new rocket were awarded two years later. The success of Proton on the international commercial market led to diminished funding for the new booster and led designers to become creative in moving development forward.

Under a joint program with South Korea named Naro-1, the Russians tested a first stage derived from Angara’s core stage that used a lower-thrust version of the RD-191 engine. The first flight test in 2009 failed due to a payload shroud problem with the South Korea-supplied payload shroud. The Russian first stage performed nominally.

The second flight test in 2010 failed, but the partners were not able to agree on the cause. The third flight in 2013 successfully orbited a South Korean satellite.

Angara had its first flight test on July 9, 2014 — some 22 years after the program was formulated. A light version of the rocket designed Angara 1.2PP flew a suborbital flight from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome with a mass simulator as a payload.

On Dec. 23, 2014, a larger Angara A5 booster successfully launched a Briz-M upper stage and a mass simulator into orbit from Plesetsk. No Angara boosters have flown since.

According to the Angara page on Wikipedia, three flights of the rocket are planned for 2019 and at least one in 2020. Three of the launches will use the light Angara 1.2 and the other the heavy Angara A5P.

Meanwhile, Russia is preparing to build an Angara launch complex at the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin said the complex will take about 45 months to build, with the first launch scheduled for 2022. The project is expected to cost about 38 billion rubles ($570 million).