Russia to consider building reusable stages for Angara


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Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency that controls that nation’s entire aerospace industry, is “considering” the idea of developing reusable rocket stages for future iterations of its new Angara rocket.

“On June 30, changes were made to the state contract on the ‘Amur’ experimental design work that envisaged upgrading and further developing this series,” the statement says. In particular, the changes envisage developing the Angara-A5M as the upgraded version of the Angara-A5 rocket and the conceptual design of the Angara-A5V increased lifting capacity vehicle (with the oxygen-hydrogen third stage).

“Also, an option will be considered to develop the Angara-A5VM carrier rocket with reusable stages,” Roscosmos specified.

I’ll believe it when I see it. For now almost twenty years the Russians have been very good at issuing bold press releases promising wonderful new rockets, spaceships, and projects, only to have none of these rockets, spaceships, or projects ever actually happen.

That they are even considering reusable first stages however does show the power of competition and freedom. They never would have if SpaceX hadn’t come along and cut costs with this idea and thus take their entire market share from them. Now they have to find a way to compete in order to get some of that business back..

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7 comments

  • V-Man

    Are the Angara’s current engines capable of throttling/restarting? Could it be as “easy” (ah!) as adding landing legs, control surfaces and new flight software?

    (Probably not, but does a reusable rocket need a clean-sheet design?)

  • Jay

    V-Man,
    Yes, the RD-191 engines can be throttled. I do not know if it could be restarted.

  • Ray Van Dune

    V-man poses excellent questions! My thoughts / guesses FWIW are that:
    1. To get to a reusability level “R7” – “Recover, rinse, retract, re-inspect, re-erect, re-fuel, re-launch” – you DO need a clean sheet of paper! (Or you will eventually wish you had used one!)
    2. The first R, recover, is a prerequisite, and gets you some or even much of your physical investment back, but you are still going to spend a bundle of time/$$ doing the rest of the R’s, thus the clean sheet.
    3. All this assumes payload integration occurs out-of-cycle, and bolting on a pre-integrated upper stage is simply part of re-erect, which is probably dreaming!

  • David

    I can’t see the Angara boosters capable of doing a powered descent and landing similar to F9, while the RD-191 is certainly throttleable, it’s not going to get down to the 10% or so of nominal thrust that would be necessary for a controlled landing of a nearly empty booster. And I believe they stage at a higher altitude/velocity than F9 does, which means dealing with more re-entry heat, etc. People forget how many fundamental design choices in the F9 booster were based on the reusability concept. Taking a booster that wasn’t designed with those considerations in mind and trying to alter the design is probably a much higher hurdle than starting from scratch.

  • Jay

    David,
    The RD-191 can only be throttled down to 30%. A redesign there. Also to make them reusable would need changes. The predecessor engine RD-171 was claimed to be reusable for the Zenit rocket.

    I am willing to bet the tanks in the Angara-A5 are not the aluminum alloy that the F9 uses to save weight. Another redesign. The F9 is around 200,000 kg lighter than the Angara-A5.

    You are correct, they would have to start from scratch.

  • john hare

    Deep throttling is less critical with the hoverslam technique that SpaceX has pioneered.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Back in the Soviet day, I believe the Energia side boosters (which became Zenit) were designed to be recovered by parachute. Each booster had two large fairings on the side for the chutes. Don’t know if this capability was actually used on either of the two launches.

    Doesn’t invalidate the argument about the Russian Federation’s space program though.

    Russia had its chance. Sadly, you can rely on them to choose the wrong path, every.single.time.

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