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Upper stage fails during 3rd test launch of Russia’s Angara rocket

In the third test launch of Russia’s new Angara rocket, intended as a replacement of its Proton rocket, the upper stage failed during the launch, placing the dummy satellite in the incorrect orbit that will decay in only a few days.

Launch was a partial failure after the upper stage shut down 2 seconds into the second burn leaving the dummy satellite in an incorrect very low parking orbit of 201 x 179 at an inclination of 63.4 degrees. The dummy spacecraft is likely to re-enter within a few days. The original plan was to use three upper stage burns to take the dummy spacecraft all the way into a “graveyard orbit” a few hundred kilometers above the circa 36,000 km circular geostationary Earth orbit (GEO).

The state-run Russian press TASS has attempted to paint this test flight as a success because the first stage operated as planned, but since the primary purpose of the flight was to test the new upper stage, dubbed Persei, the launch must be considered a failure. As an engineering test, however, this failure simply means they must figure out what went wrong and fly again.

In fact, the only real failure here is the slow pace in which Russia conducts these Angara test flights. This was only the third Angara test launch since 2014, with second occurring six years later in December 2020. That the third test was a year later should be considered unacceptable, and illustrates how the development of this rocket by the Russian government is very comparable to SLS, NASA’s own government rocket: slow, cumbersome, and inefficient.

The failure however means that this launch will not add to the total of successful Russian launches in 2021. The leader board in the 2021 launch race remains the same, with the total launches remaining at 132, tied with 1975 for the most active year in rocketry ever.

50 China
31 SpaceX
23 Russia
7 Europe (Arianespace)

According to an announcement today by Glavcosmos, the government agency that manages Russia’s commercial launches, it expects to launch 10 times next year, with three of those launches managed by Arianespace from French Guiana. This count does not include any Russian military, manned, or government launches, so the overall total will be higher, though it is unlikely to exceed by much this year’s total, and will more likely not match it.

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  • Joe

    Could China launch another bird before the end of the year and break the tie with 1975? It might still be possible.

  • Joe: There is one tentative Chinese launch listed at

  • Ray Van Dune

    7 Europe? No wonder they were so excited by the successful JWST launch! I mean besides the fact that had the Ariane 5 done an Angara faceplant, nobody would rely on them to launch a rock across a pond! Yeah, rockets is hard… but 7 ?!

  • Localfluff

    At least they’ve produced a pretty propaganda clip about this launch. From Plesetsk, the cosmodrome built in the 1950s in the Russian Arctic. Not from the still under construction Vostochny in southeastern Siberia. Plesetsk is useful for polar orbits, but if this one was to go into graveyard orbit outside of geocentric orbit, perhaps that says something about the state of Vostochny?

    Anyway, nice Winter landscape for a launch:

    Wikipedia says:
    “On 23 January 2019, Roscosmos cancelled the agreement with the troubled PSO Kazan company to build the launch pad for the Angara rocket in Vostochny. Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has harshly criticized Director General of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin and the top brass at the state space agency: ‘We should stop the project-mongering, quit blabbing about where we’ll fly to in 2030, we should work, talk less and do more’, Medvedev said.”

    Medvedev is:
    Putin’s trusted number two man, since decades. He is by the president appointed chairman of the most important Council of Strategic Importance, or something like that in translation. The council that sets the long term strategic goals for Russia, while the by elected parliament appointed government just administrates the day to day business.

    Rogozin is this guy:
    “- You could use a trampoline if you don’t want to pay for our Soyuz”.
    Before SpaceX started to launch American crews to the ISS.
    So. His boss is getting a bit ill tempered with him. And this Angara 5 launch was perhaps the last event that Rogozin had to oversee. I am in no way an expert in Russian “politics”, but I expect more centralization and new top brass. Putin is a very educated and intelligent man! You won’t underestimate him after having seen him talks live with anyone from foreign leaders, reporters, leading social scientists and anyone calling in on his public shows. And he said the other week that he stands with his ass to the wall in Europe (and that he has China and Central Asia cleared now after the debacle in Afghanistan when everyone abandoned the US), which is why he has drawn a final red line towards NATO and will bite for his life if anyone gets even an inch closer.
    So perhaps he appoints a space guy who knows what he is doing, because he needs to do that now.

  • I guess they could practice shooting it down for a win.

  • Jeff Wright

    Shh! Don’t give them ideas. SLS’ upper stage is Delta IV’s for time being. Angara itself is quite striking.

  • Dick Eagleson

    The veteran Russian Briz and Fregat upper stages have suffered a number of failures in recent years. Now, it seems, the newest Russian upper stage is following in their problematical footsteps. The disintegration of Russia’s spacefaring capability continues.

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