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Russia’s Angara Rocket Prepares for Mass Production

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 21, 2021
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The central core of an Angara launcher. (Credit: Roscosmos)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — The new production facilities of the Khrunichev Center (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) will make it possible to produce up to ten missiles of the Angara family per year. In two cities of Russia, large-scale preparations are underway for the start of the serial production of missiles of this family. More details about the strategy and principles of organizing production, delimiting areas of responsibility between sites, the near and medium-term prospects of the heavy and light version of Angara.

The successful launch in December gave hope that the intricate history of the Angara family of missiles has finally entered a predictable course. The next, third in a row, flight test of the heavy Angara-A5 will take place in the coming months, and in total, six launches must be carried out before receiving the go-ahead for mass production. 

The main customers – the Roscosmos State Corporation and the Russian Ministry of Defense – believe in the new rocket. The fact is that, despite a number of interesting proposals for launch vehicles, the Angara will become a key carrier for the next decade in terms of supporting the most ambitious Russian space projects and regaining leadership in the launch services market.

It should be noted that Angara is the first rocket in domestic practice, which was created for a specific vision of operating methods and increased modern requirements for reliability, carrying capacity and efficiency. Separately, it is necessary to mention the factor of environmental safety, which cost the legendary Proton a place in the park of space technology. 

Angara rocket engines (Credit: Roscosmos)

At the request of Kazakhstan, the agreement on the lease of the Baikonur cosmodrome limits the period of use of this heavy launch vehicle, which uses toxic fuel. Our country needed another, environmentally friendly rocket capable of taking on all the tasks previously performed by Proton and launched from the territory of Russia.

The new means of launching was required not only to draw on drawing boards or to calculate on computers. For it, it was necessary to create production, build anew or remake the existing ground infrastructure. The choice of the MV Khrunichev Center as the head contractor, which was engaged in the serial production of Protons, seemed quite logical. 

The Salyut Design Bureau – the main design and engineering division of this enterprise – was able to develop a whole family of carriers, built according to general principles on the basis of the so-called universal rocket modules. Their pre-production samples, produced in Moscow, have undergone a full cycle of ground bench tests.

At the Plesetsk cosmodrome, a launch complex was prepared for launching a new series of missiles. Work has begun on the concept of building a civilian cosmodrome in the Far East, from where the Angara will also take off in various modifications. Production remained the bottleneck.

New space capital

It was difficult for the Khrunichev Center to simultaneously continue the production of Protons and establish the production of new modular rockets. Therefore, the idea was born to connect the Omsk Production Association Polet to the process. Moreover, this enterprise in 2007 as a branch became part of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Center. The geographical location of Omsk was ideal for organizing production.

“The city is practically equidistant from our main cosmodromes,” says Aleksey Varochko, Director General of the Khrunichev Center. “It is located on the famous Transsib railway, which crosses the entire country from West to East.”

Omsk was also supported by the fact that it is a large administrative and industrial center, a million-plus city, where there are universities that can compete with the capital’s in terms of education, as well as a developed labor market. The economy also played a role.

“In the structure of the Khrunichev Center, the Omsk Polet was planned to be loaded with the serial production of universal rocket modules for the Angara,” says Aleksey Varochko, Director General of the Khrunichev Center. “This, on the one hand, made it possible to ensure the uninterrupted production of the Proton-M launch vehicles at the Moscow site, with which the plant was fully loaded at that time, and, on the other, to optimize the costs of manufacturing the Angara. The cost of production at the Omsk site, taking into account all rental payments, average wages in the region and other factors, differs quite significantly from the indicators of the Moscow site.”

Final assembly shop (Credit: Roscosmos)

Finally, one more argument was the impressive history and production base for the release of rocket and space technology, which the Polyot software possessed. According to Alexey Varochko, these factors made it possible to expect that the Omsk branch would be staffed with qualified personnel.

In one bundle

The idea of ​​transferring Angara production to Omsk did not imply excluding the Khrunichev Center from the Moscow site. It was decided to launch a rocket in cooperation, according to the principle of division of labor. More than 50 organizations are involved in the creation of Angara, but the largest links in the production chain are Omsk and Moscow. The production of universal rocket modules for the first and second stages of the heavy Angara was entrusted to Polet, and the responsibility of the parent enterprise included the production of the third stage, the final assembly and complex electrical tests of the launch vehicle as a whole.

Alexey Varochko notes: “… such a binding of enterprises to the production of stages is associated both with the peculiarities of the technological equipment and tooling that the Omsk and Moscow sites have, and with the dimensions of the corresponding material part and components, since the readjustment to other diameters causes a rather long shutdown production and leads to additional spending.”

The reconstruction of production, which is currently being carried out within the framework of investment projects, is aimed at creating a closed production cycle for the Angara launch vehicle. A control and test station (KIS) will also appear in the Polyot software, where the final checks of the entire rocket as a whole will be carried out. This will make it possible to carry out the final assembly of the carrier not only in Moscow, but also in Omsk. Thus, the logistics potential of the Siberian city will be unlocked.

“Delivery of a rocket from Omsk to Vostochny and Plesetsk takes the same time,” explains Alexey Varochko. “This allows us to ensure the optimal cost of transportation, regardless of the place from where the launch will be carried out.”

Siberian Harbor

Since the late 1990s, Polet, like the entire domestic rocket and space industry, has experienced a deep crisis. The director of the enterprise, Viktor Shuliko, says that in 2007, when the software became part of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Center, it employed more than four thousand people.

“At this time, Polet had an extremely low degree of workload, an excessive number of middle management personnel,” he recalls. “For its maintenance, funds were spent that were incomparable with the volume of commercial products manufactured by the divisions. The question of self-sufficiency, profitability of individual industries and the enterprise as a whole was acute.”

Nevertheless, the plant’s production potential, which had not been wasted during the years of the crisis, allowed the space industry to count on it. A number of Polet PA production facilities required modernization, but the enterprise possessed specialists who knew and understood the missile manufacturing technology. Therefore, in 2009, PA Polyot began implementing several investment projects aimed at updating and re-equipping, as well as creating new production facilities for the production of Angara. In total, by 2024, according to Viktor Shuliko, it is planned to fully prepare production sites with a total area of ​​over 100,000 square meters.

From the history of PO Flight

The Omsk enterprise has a rich history. It all started on July 24, 1941, when on the basis of aircraft factories evacuated from Moscow No. 156 (now – OJSC Tupolev) and No. 81 (now OJSC Tushinsky Machine-Building Plant) and Omsk enterprises (car assembly plant named after Comintern (No. 6) , the plant of caravans and aviation workshops of the Civil Air Fleet) in Omsk, an aircraft plant number 166 was created.

In 1941-1943. the experimental design bureau of the aircraft designer A.N. Tupolev worked at the plant, in 1942-1945. it produced high-speed front-line bombers Tu-2 and fighter-bombers Yak-9 of two modifications, since 1949 – jet front-line bombers Il-28, and later – the first Soviet jet passenger airliners Tu-104.

In 1958, the plant switched to the production of rocketry and began production of ballistic missiles R-12 and R-16 M.K. Yangel, UR-100 V.N. Chelomey and transport and launch containers for various modifications of UR-100. And since the late 1960s, the world-famous light-class launch vehicle Cosmos-3M has become the business card of the enterprise.

In the 1970s, the plant was transformed into the Polet Production Association, which included enterprises for the production of rocket and space technology and consumer goods. In 1978, the world’s most powerful rocket engines RD-170 and RD-171 for the super-heavy rocket and space system Energia-Buran and the universal launch vehicle Zenit were launched here.

Emphasis in Strategy

The Moscow site of the Khrunichev Center is not lagging behind in development. As already noted, its specialists are entrusted with the full cycle of manufacturing the third stage of Angara-A5, as well as, at the current stage, assembly and complex electrical tests of the rocket as a whole, its loading and transportation to the cosmodrome. In addition, within the framework of the project, an aggregate module was successfully put into production, which is an integral part of the second stage and serves as an upper stage for the light Angara-1.2.

According to the Deputy General Director for Production of the Khrunichev Center, Director of the RKZ Vasily Sychev, preparations for the production of an oxygen-hydrogen stage for one of the modifications of the Angara-A5 are in full swing. Speaking about the production strategy laid down in the Program of Financial Recovery of JSC GKNPTs named after M. V. Khrunichev for 2015–2025, Sychev emphasized its main accents: reorganization of production facilities to reduce the cost of production; creation of production sites with a closed production cycle. Following these priorities will allow the Omsk-Moscow link, after the completion of investment projects in 2024, to reach the production mode of up to eight heavy and two light Angara launch vehicles per year.

In March 2020, Roscosmos and the Russian Ministry of Defense approved a production program until 2030. It fixes the volume of production of Angara launch vehicles. In 2020–2022 missiles for flight tests of the Angara missile complex will be manufactured, and at the end of 2022 the delivery of serial missiles of the Angara family will begin. From 2022, within the framework of the Amur R&D project, it is planned to start manufacturing the first prototypes of the modernized Angara missile – A5M.

Through improvements – New Versions

“Having created the Angara-A5, having carried out the first successful launches and continuing to increase the production of these carriers, we are already looking into the near future,” says Sergey Kuznetsov, General Designer of the Salyut Design Bureau. “Obviously, in order for the launch vehicle to remain in demand, it must be constantly modernized, improved to meet changing requirements.”

Work in this direction is already underway, and they are associated, first of all, with the use of modern element base in control systems and telemetry, with the forcing of the first stage engines and with the use of modern technologies for manufacturing the main bearing elements.

“This will allow not only to reduce the cost of production, but also to significantly increase the mass of the vehicle’s payload, as well as to lay a good foundation so that the modernized Angara-A5M rocket can be used in the launch program for manned spacecraft,” notes Sergey Kuznetsov. “The reserves, which are included in the forced engines, allow us to guarantee the safety of launch, which is extremely important for putting a person into orbit.”

According to the general designer of KB Salyut, modern technologies that are being deployed at Omsk production (friction welding and rotary extraction) should ensure the quality of technological processes unattainable by traditional methods, the absence of shells and stresses in the metal, which will have a most positive effect on the reliability of the rocket and on the possibility of launching a ship with a person on board on it.

For a significant increase in the potential of carriers of the Angara family in the near future, it is planned to develop oxygen-hydrogen upper stages and stages. Currently, the study and preparation of their production is in full swing.

“The hydrogen stage is already the next phase of modernization. The transition to new fuel components (oxygen-hydrogen) will significantly increase the energy and mass characteristics,” emphasizes Sergey Kuznetsov . “The rocket will be able to launch the payload into the reference orbit almost one and a half times more than the previous modification. It is planned to actively use this carrier in a promising program for solving problems of the exploration of the Moon.”

Flight updates

Director of PO Polet Viktor Shuliko: “To date, work has been completed within the framework of the first stage of reconstruction: workshops for finishing assembly and testing of pneumatic-hydraulic system units, unit-assembly production, pneumatic testing, hydraulic testing and calibration of tanks, galvanic coating area for large-sized parts, final assembly and testing.

Until 2024, it is planned to reconstruct and re-equip areas for cryogenic tank washing, machining, production of wafer panels and rolled bottoms, assembly of dry compartments, sheet stamping and profiles, an industrial and warehouse complex, a site for the production of head fairings, assembly and testing of the third stage of Angara, a section for applying electroplated-chemical coatings in combination with a section for paint and varnish coatings, a section of pipelines, heat treatment; organization of a mechanical testing laboratory; technical re-equipment of the cable production workshop; creation of a site for CIS.”

Missile Assembly Being Completed, Launches Planned

However, all the attention of developers and experts today is focused on the flight test program. Two successful launches of the heavy Angara-A5 have already been completed, but the light Angara-1.2 in its standard configuration has never flown yet. The suborbital mission of the Angara-1.2PP missile (First launch), conducted on July 9, 2014, provided for the verification of the launch complex, blocks and structures of the entire missile family before starting operation.

Sergei Kuznetsov says that the flight copy of the Angara-1.2 is at the final stage of production. The first stage is already ready. In Moscow, the production of a component of the second stage – an aggregate module – is coming to an end. It is a detachable compartment with a control system and an autonomous propulsion system. The module is designed to launch spacecraft into target (including high) orbits without restarting the second stage engine. After completion of manufacturing, complex electrical tests will be carried out. Based on their results, a decision will be made to send the rocket to the Plesetsk cosmodrome for launch.

“We cannot name a specific launch date yet. It will be determined by the decision of the state customer and the tasks of the payload that will be displayed on it, ” says the general designer of the Salyut design bureau.

As for the third Angara-A5, it is also in a high degree of readiness. The first and second stages are practically assembled, the assembly of the third stage is nearing completion, and then the cycle is similar: at the Moscow site, the rocket must undergo comprehensive electrical tests, and in the coming months it will be delivered to the Plesetsk cosmodrome. The peculiarity of the upcoming launch is that instead of the upper stage Briz-M produced by the Khrunichev Center, used in previous launches, the upper stage Perseus manufactured by RSC Energia will participate in it.

According to Sergey Kuznetsov, this will be the first launch of Angara-A5 with such an upper stage. “We, RSC Energia and the Ministry of Defense, face an extremely important task,” he stressed. “The specific launch date will be announced after the customer, together with interested organizations, decides at what point which rocket – light or heavy – will be launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome.”

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