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Preparing for the first launch
In November 2013, a full-scale prototype of the Angara launch vehicle finally made it to the launch pad at Russia's northern launch site in Plesetsk. It was a major milestone in the long-delayed development of the vehicle then scheduled to make its maiden flight in May 2014.
Previous chapter: Development of the Angara project
Above: An Angara rocket on the launch pad in Plesetsk. Credit: Krasnaya Zvezda
Specifically for the first test launch of the Angara rocket, Khrunichev decided to custom-built a vehicle under a designation Angara-1.2PP (where "PP" stood for the "first launch"). The first stage of this vehicle consisted of a single URM-1 rocket module, which would be used by Angara-1 and Angara-5 rockets. As its second stage, Angara-1PP will carry the URM-2 rocket module, in order to certify it for the use on the Angara-5 rocket. However the operational Angara-1.2 rocket would fly with a smaller upper stage matching the diameter of the first stage -- 2.9 meters.
In 2008, the first launch of the Angara rocket was promised at the end of 2010-beginning of 2011. During 2009, preparations for the first test mission cleared a major hurdle with three successful test firings of the first stage booster, which also performed well during the first ill-fated launch of the South-Korean KSLV rocket. However around the same time, various unofficial reports said that a delay of the first Angara launch to 2012 would be necessary. In the middle of 2010, the first launch was delayed from 2012 to 2013.
As of beginning of 2011, the first launch of the Angara-1.2.PP was scheduled for the first or second quarter of 2013. The heavy version of the rocket was then promised to fly in the fourth quarter of 2013. However on Oct. 4, 2011, Lt. General Oleg Ostapenko, the commander of the Russian space forces, told journalists that the first launch would take place "as scheduled" in the second half of 2013. (519)
In April 2012, Angara-1.2PP was promised for shipment to Plesetsk in December. At the same time, the first Angara-5 rocket would have to reach a 60-percent production level in order to enable its delivery to Plesetsk in the second quarter of 2013 and its launch in the fourth quarter of the same year. However these deadlines were already under pressure by new delays in the construction of the launch facility, the head of GKNPTs Khrunichev said. Moreover, according to insiders at Khrunichev itself, the program was also stalling partially due to funding problems during 2011 and 2012, while developers were struggling with drastic design changes, such as the enlargement of the second stage for standard Angara-1.2 and Angara-5 rockets, in order to accommodate more propellant.
During a visit to GKNPTs Khrunichev of Deputy Chairman of the Russian Government Dmitry Rogozin on May 5, 2012, the company issued a press-release promising the launch of Angara-1.2.PP in the second quarter of 2013. Khrunichev also announced that the third launch of the Angara-based KSLV rocket built for South Korea would be attempted at the end of the year.
On Jan. 18, 2013, the director of Spetsstroi Grigory Naginsky told RIA Novosti news agency that the first launch of Angara rocket had been planned for October or November. In the last week of February, specialists at GKNPTs Khrunichev's Rocket and Space Plant, RKZ, in Moscow conducted fit checks of a payload fairing with a payload section of the Angara-1.2.PP vehicle. According to the company's press-release published on March 1, the assembly and autonomous testing of the pneumatic and hydraulic system for the second stage was also completed. In the meantime, the first stage was ready for electric tests at the factory's Checkout and Test Station, KIS, which would be the final development step before a planned shipment of the rocket to Plesetsk, the company said. However less than two months later, Colonel-General Oleg Ostapenko, Deputy Defense Minister, admitted to reporters that the first Angara could only fly in 2014.
During the night from May 27 to May 28, 2013, the first Angara rocket designated 1.2 PP, finally left its factory in Moscow for Plesetsk. It reached the northern launch site on May 31. (654) The Vice Prime-Minister Dmitry Rogozin attended the event. At the time, the launch was promised in May 2014. On June 5, the Russian television showed the rocket inside the processing facility in Plesetsk.
On May 23, 2012, GKNPTs Khrunichev announced that preparations had been underway to ship a "test-stand" prototype (designated Article NZh) of the Angara rocket to Plesetsk. The electric and fueling test article would be used to certify Angara's processing and launch infrastructure and confirm the facility's operational readiness. Although the vehicle represented a light version of the rocket, it also featured connecting interfaces, which would enable it to serve as a booster for the the heavy Angara. The prototype of the second stage, as well as payload fairing and spacecraft simulator was also included. Among operational systems of the Article NZh were fueling and defueling hardware, fire safety, thermal control, power supply, telemetry and measurements systems. Before its shipment to Plesetsk, the vehicle underwent static, dynamic and electric tests. Following integrated tests at the manufacturer, the vehicle was disassembled for the shipment to Plesetsk.
The same May 23 announcement also claimed that integrated tests of the flight control instruments and testing of software and algorithms for the rocket had been completed. Onboard equipment had also been tested. Even more doubtful statement said that systems of processing and launch complex had been manufactured and installed. At the time, the "readiness" of the Angara-1.2 rocket for shipment to Plesetsk was promised in December 2012, while the delivery of the first Angara-5 rocket to the launch site was then scheduled at the beginning of the third quarter of 2013. Khrunichev confirmed the shipment of the Article NZh test vehicle to Plesetsk on June 25, 2012.
From a report by the official ITAR-TASS new agency, it was clear that the Article NZh vehicle was rolled out and installed on the launch pad in Plesetsk on Nov. 25, 2013. The vehicle was expected to spend around a day on the pad and then give room for a mass simulator of the rocket, ITAR-TASS reported. The rollout operations enabled to test the mobile erector designed to carry the rocket by rail from the assembly facility to the launch pad. At the time, the first launch of Angara rocket was still promised in May 2014. By February 2014, the launch was expected at the beginning of June.
On Feb. 17, 2014, the Article NZh mockup was rolled out to the launch pad once again, and, this time, the move was confirmed by the Ministry of Defense. According to its statement, the vehicle was brought out to the pad at Site 35 from the processing center for a round of integrated testing. The first launch of the Angara rocket was planned in the second quarter of 2014, the Ministry of Defense said.
According to GKNPTs Khrunichev, on March 25, 2014, the Angara-1.2PP vehicle was rolled out to the launch pad, where the rocket was scheduled to remain for six days for electrical tests and launch equipment checks, the company said. The official statement confirmed that the first launch of Angara-1.2PP had been scheduled for "this year" however it did not mention any other Angara missions. By mid-April, the official Russian media reported that the launch of the Angara-1.2PP rocket had been scheduled for June 25. Roskosmos reconfirmed the June 25 launch date on June 4. Earlier during the day, Roskosmos head Oleg Ostapenko reported on the status of the project from Plesetsk via a video phone to a Russian cabinet meeting chaired by Dmitry Rogozin. During a four-minute summary of the meeting for the Russian press, Ostapenko said that electrical tests of the launch vehicle had been underway at the processing complex, integrated tests on the launch pad had been completed, the Article NZh prototype removed from the launch pad and returned to the processing facility.
By mid-April, the official Russian media reported that the launch of the Angara-1.2PP rocket had been scheduled for June 25. Roskosmos reconfirmed this launch date on June 4. Earlier during the day, the agency's head, Oleg Ostapenko, reported on the status of the project from Plesetsk via video phone to a Russian cabinet meeting chaired by Dmitry Rogozin. During a four-minute summary of the meeting for the official Russian press, Ostapenko said that electrical tests of the launch vehicle had been underway at the processing complex, while integrated tests on the launch pad had been completed, the full-scale prototype of the rocket known as the Article NZh had been removed from the launch pad and returned to the processing facility.
On June 9, the Chief Designer Council, overseeing the first Angara mission, met at GKNPTs Khrunichev in Moscow and after reviewing the status of the vehicle and the launch complex declared it ready for the flight test, the company's press-release said. Even that late, Russian authorities still remained tight-lipped about the flight profile of the mission, however on June 21, an official Notice to Airmen warned about potential hazard areas along Russia's northern shores from June 25 to June 28. It revealed that the Angara would likely head northeast from Plesetsk with its ground track skimming Russia's northern shores of the Arctic Ocean, along the route used by rockets heading to orbit with an inclination 75 degrees. The first stage would splash down into the Barents Sea, southeast of the Kolguev Island (in the area also known as Pechorskoye Sea), while the second stage and its payload would fall on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
In Plesetsk, rumors circulated that some highest Kremlin officials, such as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin or even the Russian President Vladimir Putin could attend the launch. In the old Russian tradition of Potemkin villages, authorities at the residential area of the launch site were taking frantic measures to tidy up neglected facades and road surfaces in town, primarily along the standard route of the limo cortege carrying their Moscow bosses. Construction workers also scrambled to complete a long-delayed residential district and a water park, which had to provide a backdrop for "news reports" by the official Russian media about the government's efforts to improve the life of ordinary officers at military installations.
However, according to residents, many districts in Plesetsk at the time stayed half flooded as a result of heavy rains, while the unfinished construction of the new drainage system left nearly half of the town paralyzed and crisscrossed with trenches and some streets unreachable even by SUVs.
On June 19, official Russian media reported that the launch would have to be postponed for two days until June 27. Another critical meeting of the project officials to re-confirm the readiness for flight was scheduled for June 20.
On June 25, the Angara rocket was rolled out to the launch pad. On the same day, local authorities on the Kamchatka Peninsula announced that a stage of the Angara rocket would "land" in the region and the population was recommended to stay away from the area from 12:00 on June 26 until 12:00 on June 29.
Next chapter: Maiden mission of the Angara rocket
Known specifications of the Angara-1 rocket (as of June 2009):
Known specifications of the Angara-1.2 development mockup (NZh 14A125 2A1S):
Component designations within the Angara family:
This page is maintained by Anatoly Zak
Last update: August 15, 2014
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The first Angara rocket in final stages of manufacturing. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
The first Angara-1 rocket shortly before shipment to Plesetsk in May 2013. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
The first Angara rocket is shipped to Plesetsk on May 28, 2013. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
Still in its plastic covering, the first Angara rocket at the beginning of June 2013, shortly after its arrival to Plesetsk. Credit: Vesti TV channel
A prototype of the Angara rocket rolls out to the launch pad in Plesetsk probably in November 2013. Click to enlarge. Credit: TsENKI
The prototype of the Angara rocket is being erected on the launch pad on Feb. 17, 2014. Credit: Zvezda TV channel
The Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev poses on the launch pad of the Angara rocket in Plesetsk during his visit to the center on Feb. 19, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian government
A Russian government meeting on June 4, 2014, which publically set the first launch of the Angara rocket for June 25, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Dmitry Rogozin