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.

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Russia Plans to Boost Launch Rate, Revenues from Space Station

Igor Komarov (Credit: Russia Forum)

Speaking a day after SpaceX successfully re-flew a previously used Falcon 9 first stage, Russian space officials sought to reassure the public about the nation’s lagging launch rate and outlined plans to increase revenues from  the International Space Station (ISS).

On Friday, Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said Russia was aiming for more than two dozen launches this year.

“We will conduct at least 30 launches from the Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny and Kourou space centers this year,” Komarov said at a meeting of the Expert Council of Russia’s Military-Industrial Committee.

With one quarter of the year completed, Russia has conducted two launches.

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Khrunichev’s Proton Woes Continue

Proton on launch pad (Credit: ILS)

Khrunichev’s Proton rocket, which has been grounded since an in-flight anomaly last June, continues to experience serious problems with quality control, Russian media reported last week.

An investigation into quality control issues in the Russian space industry has discovered that nearly every engine currently stockpiled for use in Proton rockets is defective, the RIA Novosti news agency reported March 30, citing Igor Arbuzov, head of state rocket engine manufacturer Energomash.

71 engines, mostly used to power the second and third stages of the Proton rocket, require complete overhauls to remove defects. Arbuzov did not specify what was wrong with the engines….

“Most of the work will be done in 2017, but we understand that some portion will inevitably slip into 2018,” Arbuzov said. “Our main goal is to avoid disrupting the government space program’s launch schedule, or the schedules of the Defense Ministry and commercial customers.”

In January, Russian officials said they were investigating quality control problems at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant where engines for the Proton and Soyuz boosters are manufactured. Specifically, they believed a less heat resistant metal had been used in second- and third-stage engines.

Officials ordered the recall of all second- and third-stage engines built for the Proton launch vehicles. Third-stage engines for the Soyuz-U and Soyuz-FG boosters were also replaced.

Russian media reported last week that Progress Space Rocket Center, which manufacturers Soyuz boosters, had received four tested third-stage engines from the Voronezh Mechanical Factory.

Last June, a Proton rocket suffered a second-stage anomaly while launching the Intelsat 31 communications satellite. The third stage compensated for the under performance of the second stage, delivering the spacecraft to its intended orbit.

In December, a Progress freighter bound for the International Space Station was lost after a Soyuz rocket malfunctioned.

Proton and Soyuz are the mainstays of the Russian booster fleet. Due to the on-going problems, Russia has only launched only twice during the first quarter of a year during which officials have promised to launch at least 30 times.

Last year, Russia conducted 18 successful launches in 19 attempts. It was the country’s lowest launch figure in years, leaving the nation in third place behind the United States and China.

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ILS Unveils New 5 Meter Fairing for Proton

Proton on launch pad (Credit: ILS)

WASHINGTON, D.C, March 7, 2017 (ILS PR)—International Launch Services (ILS) announces the availability of a 5 meter diameter payload fairing (PLF) for use with both the Proton Breeze M and Proton Medium launch systems for commercial launch services beginning in first quarter of 2020. The 5 meter PLF addresses the increased volume of today’s larger satellites required to satisfy High-Throughput Satellite (HTS) broadband capacity demands, stacked satellite height requirements, and supports multiple satellites for efficient deployment of large LEO constellations.

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As Russian Space Industry Tumbles, the Kremlin Steps In — Again

The Progress 65 spacecraft is pictured at its launch pad Nov. 29 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Last year was not a particularly good one for the Russian space program.

The country fell behind China and the United States in launches. Its 19 attempts were the lowest in years. The Proton rocket flew only three times before being ground for more than half a year due to a launch anomaly. In December, a Soyuz malfunction sent a Progress cargo ship crashing back into Earth’s atmosphere — the latest in a long string of failures going back to 2009.

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Report: Proton, Soyuz Problems Traced to Engine Manufacturer

Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)
Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)

A report by Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com says problems that have grounded Russia’s grounded workhorse Proton and Soyuz boosters have a common origin: “egregious quality control problems” at engine manufacturer Voronezh Mechanical Plant (VMZ).

The Kommersant newspaper reported that a recent firing test had revealed technical problems with RD-0210 and RD-0212 engines, which propel the second and third stage of the Proton rocket respectively. The failure of the engine was reportedly traced to illegal replacement of precious heat-resistant alloys within the engine’s components with less expensive but failure-prone materials. The report in the Kommersant echoed the results of the investigation into the 2015 Proton failure, which found that low-quality material in the turbo-pump shaft of the engine had led to the accident.

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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

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There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

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The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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Another Year, Another Russian Launch Failure

The Progress 65 spacecraft is pictured at its launch pad Nov. 29 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: Roscosmos)
The Progress 65 spacecraft is pictured at its launch pad Nov. 29 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: Roscosmos)

They came so close this time.

In another four days, the Russians would have gone a full year without losing a spacecraft in a launch mishap. That’s something that hasn’t happened since 2009-10. In another 30 days, they would have gone an entire calendar year without a launch failure.

The loss of the Progress 65 cargo ship during its launch aboard a Soyuz-U rocket today marks the latest in a string of failures stretching back more than seven years. Since May 2009, Russia has suffered 13 launch failures and four partial failures involving its stable of satellite boosters. (See table below)

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ILS Announces 2 Launches Under Eutelsat Agreement

Proton rocket
Proton rocket

RESTON, Va. (ILS PR) — International Launch Services (ILS) announces its first commercial shared launch using a Proton Breeze M with the EUTELSAT 5 West B satellite and MEV-1, the first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) developed by Orbital ATK. In addition, ILS is pleased to announce the first commercial contract incorporating the use of the newly announced Proton Medium launch vehicle. Both launches are for Eutelsat Communications, one of the world’s leading satellite operators, headquartered in Paris, France.

The shared launch on Proton Breeze M will carry the EUTELSAT 5 West B satellite, built on Orbital ATK’s GEOStar ™ satellite platform, with an Airbus Defence and Space-built payload stacked on top of Orbital ATK’s MEV-1 spacecraft for launch in the last quarter of 2018. The second mission is baselined with the Proton Medium launch vehicle with launch to be conducted in the 2019-2020 timeframe. Both missions will be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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ILS Introduces Two New Proton Variants

Proton variants (Credit: ILS)
Proton variants (Credit: ILS)

RESTON, Va. (ILS PR) — International Launch Services (ILS) announces a product line extension of the Proton Breeze M commercial launch vehicle designed to expand the addressable GEO market for cost effective launch solutions in the small and medium satellite class range (3 to 5 metric tons). Designated as “Proton Variants,” these two additional vehicles will be optimized 2-stage versions of the time tested and flight proven Proton Breeze M launch system for exclusive commercial use by ILS.

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Commission Approves Airbus Safran Launchers Acquisition of Arianespace

Ariane 6 variants (Credit: Airbus Defense and Space)
Ariane 6 variants (Credit: Airbus Defense and Space)

BRUSSELS (EU PR) — Following an in-depth review, the European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation, the acquisition of Arianespace by Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), a joint venture between Airbus and Safran. This approval is subject to conditions.

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Roscosmos Denies Anomaly With Proton Upper Stage

Artist’s impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars. (Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)
Artist’s impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars. (Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)

Roscosmos has denied that the Breeze-M upper stage used to send ESA’s ExoMars mission to Mars malfunctioned.

Briefing reporters in Moscow, Igor A. Komarov reiterated statements made by Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow, saying the Breeze-M upper stage separated ExoMars without incident and then proceeded with the standard passivation and collision-avoidance maneuvers.

Komarov said he had seen photos taken from a Brazilian ground telescope that appeared to show small objects in the vicinity of the Breeze-M stage and ExoMars.

“I do have these pictures, provided by the Brazilian observatory, showing the ExoMars spacecraft surrounded by some dimly illuminated objects reportedly related to the upper stage,” Komarov said.

“Telemetry and other objectively verifiable data available to us, covering the entire time from the separation and the contamination and collision avoidance maneuvers to the passivation of the upper stage, show that all these steps have been performed successfully, without any anomalies,” Komarov said. “There is absolutely no indication of an upper-stage explosion or breakup.”

Read the full story.

ESA: ExoMars Performing Flawlessly

Artist conception of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (Image Credit: ESA)
Artist conception of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (Image Credit: ESA)

PARIS, 23 March 2016 (ESA PR) — Following a spectacular liftoff, ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is performing flawlessly en route to the Red Planet.

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Did Russian Roulette Nearly Claim ExoMars?

Artist’s impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars. (Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)
Artist’s impression depicting the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, named Schiaparelli, from the Trace Gas Orbiter, and heading for Mars. (Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)

The Russian roulette that is that nation’s launch industry nearly claimed Europe’s most ambitious planetary mission earlier this month.

That’s according to a report from in Popular Mechanics. Zak says there is evidence of an anomaly that sent pieces of the Proton launcher’s Briz-M upper stage into interplanetary space along with ESA’s ExoMars spacecraft.

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