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What the Frak is Going on With Russian Rocketry?

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 17, 2011

Two Soyuz launchers at Kourou. (Credit: Arianespace)

Today, Parabolic Arc launches the latest chapter in our almost famous “What the Frak?” series with a look at the Russian rocket industry. This will be the first of a series of posts looking at rocketry around the world.

During the past two decades, Russian rocketry has been largely coasting on Soviet-era achievements. However, as the world prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s demise in December, the industry beginning to emerge from that long shadow with new rockets, a new spaceport in the Far East, and a growing series of international partnerships. The goals are to modernize the rocket fleet, to compete on the international launch market, and to free Russia from dependence on Ukrainian rockets and the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Today, we will be examining the new boosters that Russia is developing and the ones that it is phasing out.

The chart and table below show four rockets that Russia is now developing: Rus-M, Angara 5, Angara 1.2, and Soyuz-1. The first three are new rockets; the fourth, Soyuz-1, is a light version of the venerable Soviet-era booster outfitted with NK-33 engines on the first stage.

Launch Vehicle

Launch Site(s)

Launch Date

Kg to LEO


Rus-M Vostochny




Angara 5 Plesetsk, Vostochny, Kazakhstan




Angara 1.2 Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny 2013 3700


Soyuz-1 Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny 2012 2850

Credit: Parabolic Arc/Edward Ellegood

As you can see, the Russians will continue to use Baikonur in Kazakhstan for some of these flights. However, the combination of Plesetsk and the new Vostochy spaceport, which is set to come on line in 2015, will give Russia the ability to launch all of its satellites from its own territory. The nation will continue to use Baikonur under its lease, with operations there shifting to commercial flights.

Let’s take a closer look at the rockets.


The Angara rocket family. (Credit: Allocer)

Name: Angara
A family of light to super heavy-lift rockets
Payload to LEO:
  2,000 to 75,000 kg
Stages:  2 (light), 3 (medium, heavy)
first stage, RD-191 (kerosene/LOX);  upper stages: Breeze-KM, Block I,  KVRB
First Launches:
2013 (Angara 1.2, Angara 5A)
Commercial Service:
Launch Sites:
Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny
Builder: Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre

Variants:Angara has a number of variants, which will be replacing the existing boosters shown in the chart below:

Launch Vehicle


Kg to LEO

1 Angara 7

45000 – 75000


Angara 5 Proton (A) 18000 – 28500


Angara 3 Zenit (B) 14600


Angara 1.2 Cyclone-3 (C) 3700


Angara 1.1 Rockot (D), Kosmos-3 (E) 2000

Angara will form the core of the Russian rocket program and replace a number of existing rockets, several of them from the Ukraine. The overall goal is to give Russia autonomy in launch vehicles, a status it lost when the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago. The Russians will phase out the use of five existing launch vehicles, including the Ukrainian Zenit and Cyclone-3 rockets. The Angara’s kerosene/LOX engine first stage also burns cleaner than some of the engines used on the Cyclone-3.

The rockets have been under development for many years; at one point, they were supposed to fly in the early 2000s.  In recent years, it has been delayed by a shortage of funds for a new launch pad at Plesetsk and wrangling between Russia and Kazahkstan over the construction of the Baiterek launch complex at Baikonur. However, the ground infrastructure issues appear to have been resolved at Plesetsk, and the new rockets now appear to be on course for testing in 2013.

A less powerful version of the new first-stage RD-191 engine has been tested twice on South Korea’s Naro-1 rocket. A third Naro-1 test is scheduled for 2012.

Russia's new six-seat Soyuz replacement. Credit: Kamov


Name: Rus-M
Human-rated rocket for next-generation human space transport
Payload to LEO:
  23,800 kg
Stages:  2
  3 RD-180 (first stage), 2 RD-0146 (second stage)
First Launch:
2015 (no crew)
Human Launches:
Launch Site:
Builder: TsSKB-Progress

This new human-rated rocket will carry Russian cosmonauts into space aboard their new six-seat Soyuz replacement, the PPTS (Prospective Piloted Transport System), in about seven years from now.  Plans call for an initial test launch in 2015, followed by human crews flying about three years later.  Some expert believe that schedule is optimistic by several years. However, since the reliable Soyuz rocket and spacecraft continue to fly, there is not a huge rush to field replacements.

The rocket is being designed to be upgraded to carry much heavier payloads of 50 to 60 metric tons into low Earth orbit.  That would put the rocket into competition with the Angara 7 variants that Khrunichev wants to build.

Russian Soyuz-1 booster. Credit: Pavel Kolotilov


Name: Soyuz-1
Stripped down version of the Soyuz 2.1b
Payload to LEO:
2,850 kg
Stages:  2
  NK-33 engines (first stage), standard Soyuz upper stage
First Launch:
Launch Sites:
Baikonur, Plesetsk, Vostochny
Builder: TsSKB-Progress

The Soyuz-1 is a stripped down version of the Soyuz-2.1b rocket with its booster rockets removed and its first stage refitted with NK-33 engines originally built for the Soviet lunar program. The second stage remains the same as the Soyuz-2.1b.

The new medium-class rocket will be capable of lifting payloads of 2,800 kilograms to low Earth orbit from Plesetsk and 2,850 kilograms to LEO from Baikonur. Russia will also launch the rocket from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome once it becomes operational later in this decade.

9 responses to “What the Frak is Going on With Russian Rocketry?”

  1. gaetano marano says:

    now that NASA is DEAD, the US commercial space companies play with Soyuz and Progress copies and China needs more time to rise in this market, Russia clearly is the only spatial superpower around and, since they now are also capitalists, they will try to make huge profits from their space technology

  2. Frank glover says:

    NASA, be it dead or alive, is not the source of US commercial rocketry.

  3. Anom says:


    Good post.

    You should probably reorganize your article around 4 Russian rocket families that are led by:

    1) TsSkb Progress
    2) Krunichev
    3) RSC Energia
    4) Roscosmos (i.e. the Russian Government)

    In reverse order, Roscosmos is promoting multiple political projects like the Rus M rocket and the Vostochy launch center in the Far East and many feel that these developments are going nowhere due to lack of funding. They are political projects that make sense to politicians, but the market, the purpose, and the funding are not there.

    RSC Energia recently acquired rights to use the Zenit rocket from Sea Launch, and probably want to use the Zenit, eventhough it is a Ukrainian rocket, for Russian human spaceflight and other initiatives, because the Zenit is a real rocket with 2 real launch pads versus the Rus M and Vostochy which do not exist and will cost over $10-Billion in funds that Russia probably does not have. It can be argued that Energia potentially has additional launch pads for the Zenit rocket in Florida and Virginia if you think the Taurus II and Ukrainian efforts to launch Zenit-derived rockets from Florida or Virginia launch pads have the capability to launch the Zenit rocket as well.

    Krunichev has succeesfully built the 1st stage boosters for the Angara-1 and Angara-5 boosters that you mention, but Krunichev has no launch pads in Russia (but they do have an Angara launch pad in Korea). Krunichev has launch pads for the Proton rocket and the Kosmos rockets that are to be replaced by the Angara rockets, but Russia has been about 10 years slow in finding the funding for the Angara launch pads. The Angara will probably launch before 2020, but existing Krunichev use of Proton rockets and lack of Russian funding will delay replacement of Proton by Angara-5 rockets for a long time. The smaller Angara-1 and Angara-3 rockets have competition from the Soyuz-1 rocket and Zenit rocket, respectively, so there is no hurry for Russian Military or foreign commercial customers to pay for accelerated Angara use through funding new launch pads.

    TsSkb Progress is in the best position, because it has 4 launch pads in 3 locations to launch its Soyuz series of rockets, and it has foreign and commercial customers to help fund upgrades to its Soyuz rockets. TsSkb has the contract with Energia to build the Rus M rocket for Roscosmos, but that is a lot of politics without clear funding support. The Soyuz-1 rocket (actually it is called the Soyuz 2-1V variant) has been slowly funded from 2000-2007 as the commercial Yamal or Aurora or Polyot rocket venture to enlarge the core stage of a Soyuz rocket and to place a larger and higher performing NK-33 engine inside of this core stage. Starting in 2008, it appears that the Russian Military provided the minimal funding and political support neccessary to take the Soyuz-1 rocket to test flight in early 2012. This new enlarged Soyuz-1 booster with the NK-33 engine may eventually replace all Soyuz bosters to allow the Soyuz to upgrade to over 25-ton payload performance to LEO, using existing launch pads. This path has the lowest cost/risk and probably has the greatest support from the Russian Military and from foreign and commercial customers of Soyuz rockets, but the politics of Rus M and Vosotchy make these relatively simple future upgrades unclear. These new TsSkb rockets have names like Soyuz 2-3, Rus, Soyuz 2-3V, Soyuz 3, Soyuz 1, and Soyus 2-1V.

    Because Russia, like the United States, lacks the money and will for political rocket projects like the Rus M and the $8.5-Billion Vosotchy launch pads, I would guess that the TsSkb Soyuz 2-3, Soyuz 2-1v, and RSC Energia (i.e. Ukrainian) Zenit rockets will be the winners, because they have foreign commercial customers (i.e. stable funding) for their rockets and they have multiple real launch pads around the world. Krunichev’s foreign customers do not use the Angara, and both Krunichev and Roscosmos lack the new launch pads needed for their rocket dreams.

    If you follow the money, you may think that Russian rocketry in 10 years will look the same as it does today, except the Soyuz will evolve to Soyuz 2-3 status (i.e. it will evolve to look like an Angara-5 rocket with 25-ton payload to LEO capability) and the Zenit will have more customers. The new Russian PTK manned spacecraft will probably be designed to fly before 2020 on both a Soyuz 2-3V and Zenit rocket, and talk of use of the Rus M rocket and Vosotochy launch pads will be just talk until 2030 or later.

    • Doug Messier says:

      That’s an excellent analysis, Anom. Thanks for contributing it. This helps me understand the structure of the Russian space industry a bit more — something I’ve been a bit puzzled over. I do plan to deal with Russia’s international partnerships and Ukrainian boosters in future posts.

  4. Anom says:


    Thank you.

    It is the same information that I gave you 2 years ago when we had dinner in California about foreign funding of the Angara 1st stage by Korea and Soyuz-2 RD-0124 upper stage by France. Russia typically has foreigners define markets for their space products and they try to have foreigners fund their rockets and spaceships. If you Google Soyuz 2-3, you will come across recent pictures and posts from the Russian MAKS show from the NASASpaceflight blogs that are partially informative.

    Roscosmos has given RSC Energia $65-Million to take PTK copy of Dragon/Orion/CST-100 capsule to PDR next year. This matches NASA CCDEV-2 support for Dragon and CST-100 to PDR. The Russians can launch PTK on a Zenit or Soyuz 2-3, but they will continue to play political games with launch on the Rus-M similar to NASA political games forcing launches on unrealistic ARES 1 or SLS rockets.

    Roscosmos, Energia, TsSkb Progress, and Space Adventures are all supporting commercial human moon missions and commercial LEO space stations by 2016 that copy similiar US commercial efforts.

    The US spent $100-Billion on ISS and can utilize 2 Astronauts at a time on it, while the Russians probably spent around $1-Billion to $10-Billion on ISS and can utilize 3 Cosmonauts at a time on ISS.

    The Russians are just being smart with their funding, but this does not mean that they do not have to deal with questionable political projects similar to US political rocket projects. If you follow the foreign money, you can see what Russian rocket projects will advance and those that won’t.

  5. gaetano marano says:

    Frank glover said… “is not the source of US commercial rocketry”
    never said it is, NASA just pays the multibillion$ bills of toys&mockups makers with government funds

  6. Frank Glover says:

    “now that NASA is DEAD, the US commercial space companies play with Soyuz and Progress copies and China needs more time to rise in this market…”

    It was not I that connected the alleged death of NASA with the continuing development of Russian and Chinese commercial launchers. Technology marches on for everyone, and they will do what they think they need to do, regardless of US projects or policy. The existence of the Shuttle or the Constellation program or lack of them (which is the only reason you and others seem to declare NASA lifeless) is not a factor in their planning. Space is big enough for all operators.

    Indeed, for those who praise Soyuz for its long history, I’ve said that that’s not necessarily a feature. It’s about time they produced a newer manned spacecraft. It seemed to be happening several times before (MAKS, Kliper) but never came to fruition. It’s not reaction to US policies, it’s simply overdue.

    Meanwhile, neither ULA nor SpaceX stand still, and their business models don’t depend on NASA’s alleged state of health, either.

    Oh, and it’s mostly *because* of the ‘dead’ agency that we’re seeing multiple domestic manned spacecraft development, including the ‘Soyuz and Progress copies.’ It isn’t ‘play’ money (or just NASA money) they’re sinking into CCDev. Commercial domestic redundancy in ISS and other LEO access, through fixed-price spacecraft that NASA did not essentially design itself, nor with only itself as a potential customer. This is to be welcomed.

    “NASA just pays the multibillion$ bills of toys&mockups makers with government funds”

    Hopefully you aren’t suggesting NASA willingly pursue the pit that SLS (to be developed for no specified program[s], and with no hope of commercial viability or government affordability) will become, instead? And I’ll let the past and future success of SpaceX ‘toys’ speak for themselves…

  7. Fregate says:

    Thank you for in depth analysis of current state od affairs in Russian aerospace industry. I would disagree with your opinion of foreign funding
    Dependancy – Angara family had been funded by Lockheed Martin for marketing purposes but since LM exit from ILS deal, Angra is backed up by Russian DoD.

  8. Anom says:


    Thank you.

    I also read your well informed posts on

    I thought that Korea had funded much of the Angara 1st stage and that Russian DoD funded the RD-191 engine evolution of the RD-170. My friends at Lockheed and ILS had told me that they had not funded Angara, and the ILS people told me they were not anticipating marketing Angara-5 rockets any time soon (5 – 10 years) as a Proton rocket replacement.

    I agree with you that Angara is backed by Russian DoD funding, and this is probably why it lacks serious funding and why its only existing launch pad exists in Korea. Russian rocket projects since the 1990’s Soviet break-up seem to go no where without foreign markets and funding.

    I would be interested to know why an Angara 1.2 rocket can not use the same launch pads as the Soyuz 2-1V rocket to be launched at Plesetsk in 2012. They both are sub-3 meter diameter LOX/RP-1 2-stage rockets using ~ 190-tons thrust on the 1st stage.

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