Soyuz Light Rocket Undergoes Bench Test as Plesetsk Prepares for Angara

Soyuz-2-1c undergoing testing. (Credit: TsSKB-Progress)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Two Russian companies moved forward over the past week on development of a pair of new launch vehicles. TsSKB-Progress conducted a major test of the new light-class Soyuz-2-1c booster while Khrunichev shipped Angara components to the Plesetsk spaceport for testing.

TsSKB-Progress completed a cold bench test on the first stage of the new booster on June 22. RussianSpaceWeb.com reports that the three-day test “reportedly rehearsed all processing and fueling procedures with the rocket all the way up to the liftoff command. It involved loading of 33.8 tons of kerosene fuel and 85.2 tons of liquid oxygen oxidizer onboard the first stage of the Soyuz-1 vehicle. The second cold test cleared the way to the test firing of the rocket’s propulsion system, which at the time was preliminary scheduled for August.”

The rocket dispenses with the Soyuz rocket’s four strap-on boosters and replaces the first-stage RD-118 engine with a refurbished Soviet-era NK-33A motor. The Soyuz-2-1c is designed to send 2,800-kilogram payloads into low-Earth orbit from Plesetsk. The new booster is scheduled to make its inaugural flight later this year.

Meanwhile, Khrunichev has shipped components of its new Angara rocket to Plesetsk so engineers there could conduct a series of ground tests at the launch complex. This is a major milestone on the road to a first flight of the Angara, which has been in development since 1995.

The Angara rocket family is designed to launch light, medium and heavy payloads. The rockets are designed to replace several existing boosters, some of which are manufactured outside of Russia. Angara also uses environmentally friendly propellants, unlike several of the rockets it is replacing.

The first Angara launch is scheduled for the second quarter of 2013, with a test flight of a heavier variant scheduled for the second half of the year. Plans call for launching Angara rockets from Plesetsk, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and the new Vostochny spaceport now under construction in Russia’s Far East. The Baikonur launches are subject to Russia and Kazakhstan working out an agreement on financing the launch complex.

The debuts of Soyuz-2-1c and Angara are likely to result in the end of the joint Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr program. The converted SS-18 “Satan” ballistic missiles have been launching light satellites into orbit. However, officials say they are considering ending the program due to the rising cost of converting the missiles and the desire to phase out the use of their toxic propellant.

The pending availability of two new light-class boosters makes the Dnepr unnecessary. Ending the Dnepr program would also make Russia less dependent upon foreign boosters, which has been a strategic concern since the collapse of Soviet Union two decades ago.

It is not known whether Ukraine will attempt to continue the program on its own.