First Angara rocket launched on suborbital test flight
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: July 9, 2014
Russia's new Angara launcher lifted off on its first test flight Wednesday, inaugurating the country's first all-new rocket program in decades in a bid to end Russia's reliance on other nations and toxic fuels for access to space.
Launch occurred at 4 p.m. Moscow time.
The flight did not carry a satellite into orbit, and the rocket impacted in the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia's Far East about 3,500 miles from the launch site as planned, announced the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, the Angara rocket's prime contractor.
The kerosene-fueled launcher flew in a special configuration named the Angara 1.2PP -- using an abbreviation for the Russian words for "maiden launch" -- testing the Angara's planned standard first and second stages in a shakedown flight before Russia puts a costly military or commercial payload on a future mission.
"All ground processing operations, the launch and the mission of Angara [1.2PP] have proceeded nominally," Khrunichev said in a statement.
The flight lasted approximately 21 minutes.
Russian officials tried launching the Angara 1.2PP rocket June 27, but a technical problem forced a launch delay. Technicians took the rocket back to an integration building before returning the launcher to Site 35 at Plesetsk ahead of Wednesday's liftoff.
The Site 35 launch pad was originally designed for the Ukrainian Zenit rocket and modified to host the Angara launcher.
Officials intend for the Angara rocket to be the future workhorse of Russia's space program, replacing a fleet of launch vehicles -- including the Rockot and Proton boosters -- to lift small and large payloads into a range of orbits.
The chief customers for Angara will be the Russian military, the Russian Federal Space Agency, and commercial satellite operators.
The Angara rocket comes in several configurations, with the light-class Angara 1 capable of putting up to 3.8 metric tons, or nearly 8,400 pounds, into a 200-kilometer (124-mile) orbit tilted at an angle of 63 degrees to the equator, according Khrunichev.
Russia started work on the Angara rocket in 1992. After Khrunichev won the contract to design and build Angara, the Russian government stated the rocket should begin operations by 2005.
But financial woes in Russia slowed the rocket program, which has cost $2.9 billion to date, according to the Itar-Nass news agency.
The first stage of the Angara 1.2PP launcher flown Wednesday was powered by an RD-191 engine produced by NPO Energomash of Khimki, Russia, near Moscow. Engineers derived the single-chamber RD-191 engine from the four-nozzle RD-171 and dual-chamber RD-180 engines flying on the Zenit and Atlas 5 launchers.
Fueled by a mix of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants, the RD-191 engine generates approximately 432,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, according to Energomash's website.
The second stage on the Angara rocket's maiden flight has a kerosene-fueled RD-0124A engine with 66,000 pounds of thrust, a new version of the engine previously flown on Russia's Soyuz 2-1b booster.
According to the Interfax news service, the Angara 1.2PP rocket's RD-191 first stage was programmed to fire for 3 minutes, 42 seconds on an easterly trajectory from the Plesetsk launch base. The second stage's RD-0124A engine was supposed to ignite as the first stage was jettisoned, then the rocket was expected to release its payload fairing at 3 minutes, 52 seconds after liftoff.
The first stage and fairing fell in the Barents Sea, according to Khrunichev.
The second stage engine was supposed to switch off 8 minutes, 11 seconds into the mission before the rocket and its instrumented payload crashed in Russia's Far East.
"The [Angara] mission proceeded over the Russian territory along a ballistic trajectory in compliance with the approved timeline," Khrunichev said in a statement. "Twenty-one minutes after liftoff, Stage 2 and the firmly attached mass/dimensional payload simulator reached the targeted impact area of the Kura Range on the Kamchatka peninsula 5,700 kilometers away from the launch site."
The Angara burns cleaner fuel than the rockets it will replace, which consume toxic hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants.
The Angara first stage with an RD-191 engine is called Universal Rocket Module No. 1. The URM-1 stage and the Angara's second stage, named Universal Rocket Module No. 2, will be used on most versions of the Angara launcher.
Khrunichev supplied a URM-1 first stage for South Korea's Naro rocket. Only one of the three flights of the Naro rocket was successful, but Khrunichev says the Russian first stage performed as expected on all three launches.
The Angara 3 configuration, featuring three URM-1 first stages attached together, can lift 14.6 metric tons, or about 32,200 pounds, to a 200-kilometer orbit at an inclination of 63 degrees.
A bigger launcher, called the Angara 5, will use a cluster of five URM-1 rocket stages and a URM-2 second stage to boost a payload of up to 24.5 metric tons -- more than 54,000 pounds -- into the same 200-kilometer orbit, according to Khrunichev.
Engineers can add optional upper stages -- either the Breeze M flown on Proton launchers or a more capable hydrogen-fueled engine -- to propel communications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit, the typical drop-off point for telecom payloads destined to operate in a ring 22,300 miles over the equator.
With the addition of the hydrogen-fueled third stage -- still under development in Russia -- the Angara 5 can place 7.5 metric tons in geostationary transfer orbit, exceeding the lift capacity of the workhorse Proton/Breeze M.
Khrunichev also has worked on a concept named the Angara 7 that could be used for deep space missions, but that version has no confirmed flights.
Khrunichev has developed two iterations of the Angara 1. A less powerful configuration called the Angara 1.1 can be topped with a Breeze KM second stage -- a smaller model of the Breeze M -- and the heftier Angara 1.2 uses a second stage borrowed from the Soyuz rocket.
The Soyuz-derived second stage for the Angara 1.2 has a smaller diameter and carries less propellant than the URM-2 second stage used on the Angara 1.2PP test flight and larger Angara rockets.
Operational flights of the Angara rocket are set to begin next year from Plesetsk and the Vostochny Cosmodrome under construction in Russia's Far East. Russia does not plan to launch the Angara rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which the Russian government leases from Kazakhstan.
Russian officials have said the heavy-lifting Angara 5 rocket is scheduled for a test flight from Plesetsk in December.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.
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