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Angara-5 to become Russia's biggest rocket
Following the maiden flight of the Angara-1.2PP space vehicle in July 2014, Russian engineers hope to quintuple their success with the liftoff of a five-booster configuration of the new-generation rocket on Dec. 23, 2014, at 08:57 Moscow Time. Angara-5 will become Russia's most powerful space booster and will eventually replace the nation's workhorse Proton rocket. Unlike Proton, all members of the Angara family will employ relatively non-toxic propellant on all but one upper stage.
Previous chapter: The inaugural flight of the Angara-1 rocket
Above: The Angara-A5 rocket configured for the first launch. (CLICKABLE)
Above: The first Angara-A5 rocket is ready for rollout to the launch pad at the beginning of November 2014.
Uncovering the flight program
As of beginning of 2014, official Russian sources had released no information on the flight profile of the first Angara-A5 rocket, however given its primary role as a carrier of satellites to the geostationary orbit located 36,000 kilometers above the Equator, it was safe to assume that the first launch would demonstrate the capability to do just that.
In the first half of 2014, Yuri Bakhvalov, Designer General of KB Salyut, the developer of the Angara-5 rocket, said that the payload section during its first launch would include an upper stage (Briz-M borrowed from the Proton-M rocket), and a dummy satellite. That disclosure allowed to speculate that Briz-M was likely to demonstrate a typical mission to deliver a satellite into the so-called geostationary transfer orbit, from where the payload would typically transfer itself to the final geostationary orbit with the use of its own propulsion system. Such a mission profile is routinely followed by the Proton-M rocket and by many other space vehicles around the world.
On July 14, 2014, the first deputy to Roskosmos head Aleksandr Ivanov confirmed in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station that during its first mission in December 2014, Angara-5 would deliver a mockup of payload to a geostationary orbit.
In an interview with the ITAR-TASS news agency in August 2014, the head of GKNPTs Khrunichev Vladimir Nesterov said that during the first Angara-5 mission, Briz-M will deliver the mockup into a geostationary orbit, however, the vehicle would then be sent into a special burial orbit, away from functioning satellites.
Long road to the launch pad
Above: The first Angara-A5 rocket during its final assembly at GKNPTs Khrunichev in Moscow.
In 2009, when Russian officials initially mentioned a test launch of the Angara-5 rocket, it had to be delayed from the second half of 2011 to the first quarter of 2013. During 2011, the International Launch Services, ILS, a US-based division of GKNPTs Khrunichev responsible for marketing Proton rockets to commercial customers, was offering to deliver a satellite on the first Angara-5 rocket at a discounted rate. However at the beginning of 2013, Khrunichev's publication reported that the vehicle would carry a simulated payload during the mission. On March 1, 2013, GKNPTs Khrunichev announced that the first Angara-A5 rocket had been under development, with its pneumatic and hydraulic systems for tanks and other components undergoing assembly at the time.
By the end of May 2013, the first launch of the Angara-5 rocket was promised in November 2014, however at the beginning of that year, industry sources said that Angara-5 had absolutely no chance of flying before the end of 2014. Most optimistically, the first Angara-5 would be shipped to Plesetsk before the end of 2014, in preparation for launch sometime in 2015. In April 2014, officials at GKNPTs Khrunichev still insisted that the launch would take place in December 2014. The Kremlin officials also confirmed the end of December launch date for Angara-5 after the successful flight of the Angara-1.2PP rocket in July.
On Aug. 27, 2014, Russian military officials announced that integrated tests of the first Angara-A5 rocket had been initiated in Plesetsk. By the end of October, Russian authorities released first TV footage from Plesetsk showing five URM-1 boosters of the first and second stage integrated with the URM-2 booster of the second stage.
By the end of September, semi-official Interfax news agency quoting an unnamed official at Roskosmos reported that the first launch of the Angara-5 rocket would "certainly take place after December 25," essentially confirming the delay of the mission until 2015. In turn, this apparent "trial balloon" triggered an avalanche of official denials of any delays and new promises to fire Angara-A5 on December 25. On October 5, the official RIA Novosti news agency quoted the commander of the Air and Space Defense Forces, VKS, Aleksandr Golovko as saying that "all work at the launch site goes as scheduled. On November 20 we have to conduct tests on the launch complex." Golovko apparently referred to a rollout of the Angara-A5 rocket to the launch pad for fit tests. He left a little wiggle room by saying that the launch date would be determined by the State Commission based on the readiness of the launch vehicle.
By November 8, the first Angara-A5 rocket was also topped with a Briz-M upper stage and a payload simulator known as IPM, Russian officials said. According to a spokesman for the Russian Air and Space Forces, VKS, Colonel Aleksei Zolotukhin quoted by TASS news agency, the fully assembled Angara-A5 had already been placed on its transporter/erector inside the assembly building of Technical Facility No. 41 and its personnel was conducting final operations before the rollout of the rocket to the launch pad (for tests). Zolotukhin confirmed that the first launch of the rocket had been planned for December 2014.
Above: First view of a fully assembled Angara-5 rocket in Plesetsk released on Oct. 31, 2014.
Above: The first Angara-5 rocket on the launch pad in Plesetsk in November 2014.
On November 10, 2014, the first Angara-A5 rocket was rolled out from its assembly building to the launch pad at Site 35 in Plesetsk, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced. The testing on the pad, including electric checks of the rocket and tests of launch equipment, was scheduled to continue for seven days in preparation for the launch in December, the Russian military said.
According to postings on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine, high-pressure tanks of the Briz-M upper stage onboard the Angara were fully loaded prior to its rollout from the assembly building.
On its way to the launch pad, the rocket was to make a stop at a special fueling station, known as KZBND (Fueling Complex for Low Pressure Tanks), where during preparation for routine launches, Briz-M's low-pressure tanks would be filled with toxic propellant. However this test run, launch crews would only conduct fit checks for all the fueling equipment, before the rocket would proceed further to the launch pad.
Upon the arrival to the pad, the transporter erector would install the launch vehicle into the vertical position for a series of integrated tests of the launch facility with the rocket. Tests would involve filling main booster stages of the rocket with propellant, only to drain it later to gain experience with such a procedure.
On the way back to the assembly building after the pad tests, the rocket would make another stop at the KZBND complex. This time, Briz-M's low-pressure tanks would be filled with toxic propellant and then drained as well.
Due to imperfect nature of the propellant drainage system, after the tests, the Briz-M stage could return to the assembly building with as much as 300 kilograms of hazardous propellant still remaining in its tanks. However, project officials were confident that the risk was manageable, since such operations had been well tested in the past. Under less than likely scenario where all tests on the pad were going without a hitch, officials could make a decision not to return the rocket to the assembly building and proceed with the launch ahead of schedule, industry sources said.
Above: On December 1, official Russian TV showed the Angara-A5 rocket inside the assembly building with its payload section separated from the rest of the vehicle.
On November 26, RIA Novosti finally confirmed that the testing of Angara-A5 on the launch pad, including the fueling of the vehicle, had been completed and the rocket had been returned to the assembly building for final launch preparation scheduled for December 2014. However a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense quoted by the agency did not specify how long the rocket had been on the pad or when it had been returned to the assembly building.
Just two weeks before the scheduled launch on December 25, posters on the web forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine said that the launch window for the first Angara-A5 rocket would actually open on December 22 and would last until December 28, 2014. To catch the beginning of the launch window, the rocket was expected to be rolled out to the launch pad on December 15, sources said.
On December 15, the fully assembled Angara-A5 was rolled out from the assembly building to a fueling facility, known as KZ BND, for loading low-pressure propellant tanks of the Briz-M upper stage with toxic fuel and oxidizer. The hazardous facility was located near the perimeter of Angara's launch complex in Plesetsk, just 700 meters from the rocket's launch pad. Based on similar operations with Proton in Baikonur, the fueling at KZ BND was expected to take up to two days.
On December 16, the official TASS news agency quoted Designer General of the Angara rocket Vladimir Nesterov as saying that the State Commission overseeing the launch would convene on the evening of December 17 to make a decision to proceed with the rollout of the rocket to the launch pad.
Around the same time, the launch schedule was apparently moved back by 24 hours. On December 18, the official TASS news agency reported that the liftoff would take place on Dec. 23, 2014, at 08:57 Moscow Time. The State Commission made a decision to proceed with the fueling of the Briz-M stage, which was underway at the KZ BND site during December 18. The short transfer of the rocket from the fueling station to the launch pad took place on December 20.
On December 22, after a series of electrical checks on the pad, the State Commission overseeing the launch cleared the rocket for fueling and launch.
All operations were conducted largely in secrecy and no live coverage of the historic launch was expected.
Next chapter: Flight profile of the Angara-5 rocket
Read (and see) much more about Angara rockets and many other space projects in Russia
Components of the Angara-A5 rocket for the first flight:
(This page is continuously updated as events unfold)
Writing and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: December 22, 2014
Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: June 18, 2014
All rights reserved
Angara-5 sheds its four first-stage boosters during a ride to orbit. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2014 Anatoly Zak
Preparations for the rollout of the first Angara-5 rocket. Click to enlarge. Credit: Dmitry Rogozin
The payload simulator to be used in the first launch of the Angara-A5 rocket can be seen on the background during a ceremony in Plesetsk in the summer of 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense
First view of a fully assembled Angara-A5 rocket released on Oct. 31, 2014. Credit: Vesti Primorya
The first Angara-A5 rocket rolls out to the launch pad in Plesetsk for the first time on Nov. 10, 2014. Click to enlarge. Russian Ministry of Defense
Angara-A5 arrives to the launch pad on Nov. 10, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev
First Angara-A5 rocket shortly after reaching the launch pad in Plesetsk on Nov. 10 or 11, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Novosti Kosmonavtiki
Angara-A5 during its first fueling test in November 2014. Credit: Novosti Kosmonavtiki
On Dec. 1, official Russian TV showed the Angara-A5 rocket in the assembly building with its payload section separated from the rest of the vehicle. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense
The first Angara-A5 arrives at the fueling facility KZ BND. Click to enlarge. Credit: Novosti Kosmonavtiki