Angara launches

The competition heats up: The first test launch today of Russia’s new Angara rocket was a success, according to Russian reports.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the first stage of the rocket separated four minutes after the liftoff, while the vehicle was flying in the projected area over the southern Barents Sea and in the range of the Russian ground control network. The main engine of the second stage was shut down as planned at 16:08 Moscow Time and the stage along with a payload mockup fell in the projected area of the Kura impact range on the Kamchatka Peninsula 5,700 kilometers from the launch site, 21 minutes after liftoff.

Russia will obviously have to conduct further test launches, including the first orbital test, before it declares Angara operational. Nonetheless, this success gets them closer to replacing the Proton and Zenit rockets and allowing them to decrease their reliance on rockets, spaceports, and components under the control of independent countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

More details about the Angara rocket family can also be found here.

Angara to fly July 9?

The first test flight of Russia’s new Angara rocket is now tentatively scheduled for July 9.

The story confirms that the problem was a faulty valve, which it appears they can replace at the spaceport, rather than return the rocket to the manufacturer. The story also had this line, which tells us that Russia is still struggling with quality control problems: “The valve’s malfunctioning was a result of sloppy assembly.”

First test flight of Angara is officially postponed

It’s official: The first flight of Angara has been postponed for at least a week or more.

“The rocket will be removed from the launchpad and transferred to a technical stand for comprehensive analysis,” RIA quoted the Khrunichev center as saying, adding the new launch time would only be decided after the checks.

Though no information was released that describes the cause of the scrub, that they are going to give the rocket a major look-over suggests that at least one of the problems reported by Anthony Zak at Russianspaceweb are likely true. To quote him again:

According to a veteran of Baikonur Cosmodrome and the Russian space historian Vladimir Antipov, the scrub at that moment could indicate a failure in the pneumatic and hydraulic system activating the rocket’s propulsion system. A screenshot of the launch countdown clock, which had surfaced on the Internet, indicated a scrub at T-1 minute 19.7 seconds. It then transpired that the loss of pressure in a flexible gas line of the propulsion system caused the delay.

It could take as long as a week to fix the problem, industry sources said on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki web forum. GKNPTs Khrunichev, the Angara’s manufacturer then posted a one-line press-release saying that the date of the next launch attempt would be announced later.

According to other sources, a valve on the oxidizer line failed, which could require to return the rocket to the assembly building, to cut out the device and weld in the new valve. Due to a built-in nature of the valve, the return of the rocket to the manufacturing plant in Moscow could also be required, likely postponing the mission for weeks.

Angara launch scrubbed.

Only moments prior to launch computers aborted the first flight of Angara, Russia’s first new rocket since the Soviet-era.

More information here. According to a Russian web forum, the problem is probably a leaky valve or the loss of pressure in the propulsion system and that it might take a week to be fixed.

The quote below from the first story above is interesting in that it once again illustrates how Putin is trying to exert his authority over the space industry to re-establish the Soviet-era top down way of doing things:

Putin, who had been poised to watch the rocket’s inaugural flight from the northern military Plesetsk cosmodrome via video link from the Kremlin, ordered his generals to report on the cause of the delay within an hour.

Russia begins its withdrawal from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

With the impending first test launch of its new Angara rocket and the construction of its new spaceport in Vostochny on-going, Russia has begun its withdrawal from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

Zenit-M rocket launching complex will become Kazakhstan’s property on January 1, 2015, Tengrinews correspondent reported from yesterday’s government meeting in the lower chamber of the Parliament. The announcement was made by the Chairman of the National Space Agency KazCosmos Talgat Mussabayev. “We have already approved the list of facilities of Zenit-M launching site that will be excluded from the lease agreement with Russia, and have obtained the technical and administrative documents from Russia that Kazakhstan needs to operate Baiterek complex. Withdrawal of Zenit-M facilities from the Russian lease agreement and their transfer to Kazakhstan is scheduled for January 2015,” Musabayev said.

In order to ensure proper transfer of the facilities and continue their operation afterword, 49 Kazakh experts are undergoing a practical training in maintenance and operation of Zenit-M site facilities. Their training will be completed before the end of the year.

Originally financed and built as an Angara launchpad in a partnership between Russia and Kazakhstan, the Russians backed out, deciding instead to keep Angara launches entirely in Russia at Vostochny while ceasing its participation in the Ukrainian-built Zenit rocket. Moreover, when Angara goes into operation, both the story above as well as this story suggest they will then cease Proton launches at Baikonur as well.

The history of Russia’s new Angara rocket.

The history and origin of Russia’s new Angara rocket.

A fascinating read, as it gives some of the office politics and back-fighting that surrounded the decision to pick the builder of this new rocket. For example, when the government picked the company Khrunichev to build the rocket,

[C]ritics charged that traditional Russian nepotism had played a role — at the time, a daughter and the son and law of the Russian president Boris Yeltsin worked for Khrunichev. As a consolation prize, RKK Energia was awarded the development of the second stage for the Angara rocket.

Later, in a move reminiscent to the space shuttle’s history (where the winning contractor eventually ended up using the basic design of their losing competitor), Khrunichev dumped the design they had used to win the contract and switched over to something almost identical to what Energia had proposed. And in the process, they cut Energia out of the deal entirely.

The new Russian rocket Angara is now scheduled for its first test launch on June 27.

The competition heats up: The new Russian rocket Angara is now scheduled for its first test launch on June 27.

According to the article this decision will be finalized tomorrow. The flight itself will be suborbital. The article also provides a wealth of information about the history, development, and configuration of this rocket. Very worthwhile reading.

Russia on track to test launch its new Angara rocket before June.

The competition heats up: Russia on track to test launch its new Angara rocket before June.

A full-scale mockup of the rocket was rolled out to a launch pad earlier this week to check ground support systems. The Angara is planned to launch from both Plesetsk and the new Vostochny space center in Russia’s Far East that is being built to reduce reliance on the Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan. The modular launcher will have a variety of configurations to cover a wide range of payload weights, from two to 24.5 metric tons. They are currently served by several different rockets, including the Proton, Russia’s largest booster.

That first test launch will be a revealing event, as this is the first completely new Russian rocket in almost a half century. The last time they built a new rocket stage, the Briz-M upper stage for the Proton rocket, they had several significant failures before they worked out all the kinks.

And in a related story, Russia’s deputy prime minister made it clear on Wednesday that his country’s spacecraft manufacturers will face stiffer penalties for any failure to meet production deadlines.

An Audit Chamber report in July last year concluded that the country’s space industry was ineffective and plagued by poor management and misuse of funds. It said Russia had only launched 47 percent of the required number of satellites between 2010 and 2012.

Both stories are revealing by their emphasis on keeping Russia commercially competitive. Note however that Russia recently consolidated its entire space industry into a single entity run by the government. Though I doubt it, we shall find out if this Soviet-style strategy can compete with American-style competition and private enterprise.

Russia considers building a heavy-lift rocket, even as it completes the design and construction of its new Angara commercial rocket family.

The competition heats up: Russia considers building a heavy-lift rocket, even as it completes the design and construction of its new Angara commercial rocket family.

The headline of the article focuses on the heavy-lift rocket, but the meat of the article is its details on Angara, which is expected to make its first launch in 2014.

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