Launch 2020: Russian Missions Improved in Quality, Declined in Numbers

Soyuz-2 rocket lifts off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome with 36 OneWeb satellites. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For Russia, 2020 was a mixed year in terms of launch. Once the world’s leader in sending payloads into space, the nation finished a distant third behind the United States and China with only 17 orbital flights. That figure was eight below the 25 launches in 2019, and Russia’s lowest number of the 21st century. The U.S. and China finished with 44 and 39 launch attempts, respectively.

On the bright side, 2020 was the second year in a row in which Russia did not experience a launch failure. That streak came after more a decade during which the Russian launch industry was plagued with multiple fmishaps.

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Russia Launches Angara-A5 Rocket on Second Flight Test

Angara-A5 rocket launched on a flight test from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Dec. 14, 2020. (Credit: Roscosmos)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — Today, December 14, 2020, at 05:50 UTC, the Angara-A5 heavy-class carrier rocket was successfully launched from Russia’s Ministry of Defence State Test Space Center (Plesetsk cosmodrome) as part of flight design tests of the Angara rocket space complex. The launch vehicle was acquired by ground means of the VKS Titov Main Test Space Center.

Prelaunch preparation and launch of the carrier rocket were conducted by combat crews of the Space Forces of the Aerospace Forces and enterprises of Roscosmos. At the estimated time, 12 minutes 28 seconds after the liftoff, the Angara-A5.2L space rocket orbital block including the Briz-M upper stage and a spacecraft weight mockup separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle. Further injection of the orbital block into the target orbit is carried out with the help of the Briz-M propulsion system.

Universal rocket modules URM-1 and URM-2 serve as the basis for the Angara family carrier rocket development. Various class Angara launch vehicles are built using several universal rocket modules. One URM-1 is used as part of the Angara-1.2 light-class launch vehicles. The maximum number of URM-1 can be a three-stage heavy-class Angara-A5 launch vehicle.

Angara rockets do not use aggressive and toxic propellants significantly increasing environmental safety both in the areas adjacent to the launch complex and in the drop zones. Russia’s Ministry of Defense and Roscosmos are the government customers of the Angara space rocket complex, with Khrunichev Center being the lead developer and manufacturer.

Proton Launches 2 Communications Satellites

Proton rocket lifts off on July 31, 2020. (Credit: Roscosmos)

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Roscosmos PR) — Proton-M carrier rocket with the Briz-M booster successfully launched from pad No. 39 of Site No. 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The rocket carried two Russian telecommunication satellites Ekspress-80 and Ekspress-103 built by ISS Reshetnev company (part of Roscosmos). The launch and flight of the carrier rocket went nominally.

According to the flight sequence, 587 seconds after the liftoff the space head unit (booster and two spacecraft assembly) nominally separated from the third stage of the carrier rocket.

Further injection into orbit will be ensured by the booster service propulsion system. The total injection time from the liftoff and second satellite separation will reach 18 hours, 16 minutes and 40 seconds.

Proton-M carrier rocket is manufactured by Khrunichev Center (part of Roscosmos) and has been used to inject payloads into target orbits and departure trajectories as part of federal and commercial programs since 2001.

Throughout its operation, the rocket has undergone four deep modernizations allowing substantial improvement of its thrust to weight ratio and ecological characteristics while injecting heavy single and dual payloads.

ESA Reports Promising Progress for ExoMars Parachutes

A series of clips from different angles and at different speeds showing parachute extraction tests using a NASA/JPL test rig powered by compressed air.  The lid of the parachute assembly is pulled along a suspended cable at high speed while the end of the assembly is fixed to a wall. When the release mechanism is activated, the parachute bag is pulled away from the parachute at the target speed, mimicking the extraction as it will be on Mars. At the highest speeds, the tests enable the extraction to take place at more than 200 km/h.

PARIS (ESA PR) — A series of ground-based tests designed to check the extraction of the ExoMars 2020 mission’s parachutes from their bags have started successfully with promising results to keep the mission on track for next year’s launch.

Landing on Mars is a high-risk endeavour with no room for error. In just six minutes, a descent module with its precious cargo cocooned inside has to slow from around 21 000 km/h at the top of the planet’s atmosphere, to a soft landing at the surface controlled by the lander’s propulsion system.

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Proton-M Launches Russian Military Satellite

Proton_M launches Russian military satellite. (Credit: Roscosmos)

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan, August 5, 2019 (Roscosmos PR) — The Proton-M heavy-class carrier rocket launched at 21:56 UTC on August 5, 2019 successfully put Russia’s Ministry of Defence spacecraft into the intended orbit.

The launch of the carrier rocket and injection of the satellite into orbit using the Briz-M booster went as planned. The spacecraft was taken under control by the Titov Main Test and Space Systems Control Centre of the Russian Space Forces.