The competition heats up? The Russian government is considering building another new rocket that would be based more on Proton than Angara and could function eventually as the foundation for a heavy-lift rocket.
At the heart of the new design was the idea to enlarge the diameter of the Zenit rocket from 3.8 to 4.1 meters, so it could match the “caliber” of the Proton rocket. As a result, the Proton’s production machinery could be re-used with relatively few upgrades to manufacture the new-generation launcher, after its predecessor’s planned retirement in mid-2020s. Unlike Proton, all stages on Sunkar would burn non-toxic kerosene and liquid oxygen, as it had long been insisted upon by the Kazakh government. The Sunkar could utilize the existing launch and processing infrastructure for the Zenit rocket in Baikonur, which could be funded by Kazakhstan.
…Ironically, the proposal to develop yet another type of space launcher essentially reverses the previous strategy at GKNPTs Khrunichev of relying on a modular architecture of the Angara family to cover the entire spectrum of space payloads. However, unlike Angara’s standard booster, URM-1, the first stage of the Sunkar rocket will be large enough to serve as a building block for a future super-heavy rocket, reaching payloads of at least 80 tons, so it could serve as the main vehicle for the deep-space exploration program. Therefore, the Sunkar proposal can be considered as the first step in building a more powerful family of space rockets in Russia.
Run as a single government entity, it appears to me that the Russian aerospace industry is struggling with its decision-making process. Without some internal profit-oriented competition, they have no method for focusing their efforts on any design. Rather than have multiple independent companies competing for profit with their own individual designs, Roscosmos’s management can only make its decisions after much office politics, the logic of which often has nothing to do with the best or most efficient concept. Their one saving grace is that, rather than competing with themselves to thus encourage fast and efficient development, they will be competing with other countries — especially the American private sector — and that will eventually give them the impetus to build something.
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