Roscosmos Cancels Rus-M Rocket in Favor of Upgraded Soyuz

Roscosmos has canceled its planned Rus-M rocket and will launch its new six-person Soyuz replacement spacecraft on an upgraded Soyuz-2 rocket instead, according to space agency officials.

“We have come to the conclusion that we do not need a new rocket, we can continue using those we already have,” Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin told Russian media.

The two-stage rocket was designed to replace the venerable Soyuz booster. Built by Energia, Rus-M was schedule to begin test flights from the new Vostochny spaceport in the Far East beginning around 2015. Human missions would have followed three years later.

Instead, the Soyuz-2 rocket will be the first to fly from Vostochny, according to Roscosmos Deputy Head Vitaly Davydov. Engineers plan to upgrade the rocket to carry as much as ten metric tons of cargo into low Earth orbit. Flights with the new spacecraft could begin in 2018.

Davydov added that no decision has been made on launching the new Angara rocket from Vostochny. Officials will decide after test flights of the rocket have been completed.

The first test launch of the Angara 1.2 rocket, which can lift 3.7 metric tons into low Earth orbit (LEO), is scheduled for the second half of 2013 from a new launch complex at Plesetsk. If successful, the flight will be followed by a test of heavier Angara 5, which can lift between 18-28.5 metric tons to LEO depending upon which version is used.

Construction of a second Angara launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is running 18 months behind schedule and will not be completed until 2014.

Angara is a modular family of rockets designed to replace several existing boosters. The largest, Angara 7, will be able to send a payload of 40.5 metric tons to LEO. The first Angara was supposed to fly by the mid-2000s, but the program has suffered numerous delays due to funding and other issues.

UPDATE — Editor’s Note: Cancelling Rus-M will save Roscosmos a lot of money and effort and reduces the number of projects on its already crowded plate. It was always a bit of a mystery why Russia was developing both the Angara and the Rus-M, which have similar capabilities.Especially since there didn’t seem to be enough money for the Angara, which has been repeatedly delayed. There was growing skepticism about Rus-M being able to meet its 2015 and 2018 launch dates.

Popovkin has said that he wants to reduce the amount of funds being spent by Roscosmos on its human spaceflight program in order to run a more balanced space effort. Cutting Rus-M goes a long way toward that goal.

Although the media reports I’ve seen mention an upgraded Soyuz carrying Russia’s new human spacecraft, Anatoly Zak at Russian Space Web thinks Popovkin was hinting at Angara when he said that Roscosmos would rely on existing rockets. A human-rated Angara would fit the bill nicely. And it might be cheaper than trying to upgrade the Soyuz for a six-person spacecraft. We’ll see what happens.