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Ukraine to Russia: Keep us in mind for big rocket designs!

In 2013, on the eve of the expected Russian decision on a super-heavy launcher, a former Soviet republic proposed a really big rocket.


A scale model of the Mayak 33-4T super-heavy launcher. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak

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Original Mayak family

KB Yuzhnoe first unveiled its proposals for the Mayak (Beacon) family of light-weight launchers in the mid-2000s. In June 2005, scale models of three versions of Mayak rockets designated Mayak-12, -22 and -23 were presented at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget. Later, models designated Mayak-32, -12 and -22 were identified. The proposed two-stage launch vehicles could deliver from 1.5 to 8.1 tons of payload to the low Earth orbit. A depiction of a larger Mayak 43-2T vehicle equipped with two strap-on boosters has been circulated as well.

The company's documentation said that the Mayak project would take maximum advantage of technological and engineering heritage from the Tsyklon and Zenit rockets. KB Yuzhnoe did not identify the propulsion systems intended for the family, but did say that all stages of Mayak would employ non-toxic liquid oxygen and kerosene. Original scale models showed two combustion chambers on the Mayak-12 and four chambers on -22 and -23 models. As it transpired later, the RD-801 engine with a thrust of 120 tons would be used on the first stages of the Mayak family.

Despite having different diameters, all Mayak rockets would share engines, flight control systems and launch equipment, KB Yuzhnoe said.

In the following years, KB Yuzhnoe continued marketing the Mayak family, however there was no sign that the project got any traction.

Super-heavy Mayak

As Russia's leading rocket firms are vying for the winning design of the prospective super-heavy rocket, Ukraine's KB Yuzhnoe bureau brought its own big space launcher to Moscow. The company, which develops the Zenit and Tsyklon boosters and supplies stages for the Antares launcher in the US, showcased a possible architecture of its super rocket at the MAKS 2013 air and space show in Zhukovsky in August.

The three-stage Mayak 33-4T rocket would consist of the four boosters of the first stage and single boosters on the second stage and the third stage. Somewhat surprisingly, the entire rocket would be propelled by engines developed at KB Yuzhnoe itself, company information said. Until today, largest engines for KB Yuzhnoe's Zenit rockets are supplied from Russia, even though the Ukrainian company claims to have developed 11 types of liquid-propellant engines in the course of its history with a thrust ranging from 0.5 to 48 tons.

KB Yuzhnoe's information said that the Mayak 33-4T rocket could deliver up to 70 tons of payload to the low Earth orbit. The rocket could be used to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Cluster launches of several spacecraft to low and medium-altitude orbits;
  • Launches of heavy space station modules and elements of manned transport systems for deep-space missions;
  • Delivery of dual and multiple components for prospective platforms assembled in geostationary orbit;
  • Launches of heavy space vehicles toward the Moon and into deep-space trajectories;
  • The delivery of 30.2-ton of payload to a geostationary transfer orbit.

Most likely, none of these far-fetched applications of the vehicle were in demand in Ukraine or anywhere else, for that matter. However wording used in the description, such as "platforms assembled in the geostationary orbit," clearly echoed desperate efforts to find justifications for the Energia rocket, after the cash-strapped Soviet military had withdrawn its support for the behemoth project.

The references to deep-space manned missions essentially pitched Mayak as a candidate for the prospective Russian manned space program and the long-anticipated government tender to develop a super-heavy launcher. How Ukrainian space officials hoped to reconcile their concept with the Russian doctrine of reliance exclusively on internal suppliers in its space program remained to be seen. Perhaps, the super heavy Mayak aimed to meet Russian space industry half way from its proposals within the Sodruzhestvo project. First conceived in the 1990s and revived in 2012 at RKK Energia, the Sodruzhestvo super heavy rocket would combine resources from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Just two months after MAKS 2013, the head of the Ukrainian space agency, NKAU, Yuri Alekseev told journalists that the former Soviet republic did propose Russia to consider the Ukrainian assistance in the development of a super-heavy launcher. Engineering reports on the matter had been evaluated at RKK Energia, Alekseev said. Russian plans for the exploration of the Moon and Mars would not be easily achievable without Ukrainian launch vehicles, Alekseev was quoted as saying. At the same time, Alekseev admitted that so far Russia had not officially invited Ukraine to participate in such a project. (668)

These developments also coincided with reports that workers at KB Yuzhnoe's production factory in Dnepropetrovsk had been on the brink of a strike due to non-payment of salaries. On October 7, employees of the company received salary for August and even that was paid only under a threat of a strike. For around a year, a number of divisions of the factory had been working only three days a week. (667)

By the end of 2013, the prospects of Ukraine entering broad economic agreements with the European Union prompted Russia to act. The Kremlin proposed Kiev an alternative economic union, which included space cooperation. According to a Ukrainian envoy to Moscow Valery Muntiyan by January 2014, a broad space agreement signed by two sides guaranteed Ukraine a role in the development of the Russian super-heavy launcher with a payload of 70 tons. However within weeks, the Russian-Ukrainian ties exploded with the overthrow of the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


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Known specifications of the Mayak 33-4T rocket:

Number of stages
Payload mass to a 200-kilometer orbit
up to 70.0 tons
Payload to a geostationary transfer orbit
up to 30.2 tons


Known specifications of the Mayak family of rockets:

Liftoff mass
90 tons
165 tons
370 tons
28.4 meters
36.9 meters
47.4 meters
2.5 meters
3.0 meters
3.9 meters
Stage I thrust
120 tons (1 RD-801)
240 tons (2 RD-801)
480 tons (4 RD-801)
Stage II thrust
9 tons
10 tons
10 tons
Payload to 200-kilometer orbit with inclination 50 degrees
1,500 kilograms
3,000 kilograms
8,100 kilograms
Payload to 150 by 35,860-kilometer orbit with inclination 4.5 degrees
2,200 kilograms

Next chapter: Tsyklon-4M

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Story and photography by Anatoly Zak; Last update: July 16, 2020

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 8, 2013

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The original family of Mayak launchers unveiled in Le Bourget in 2005. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak


The Mayak family of launchers circa 2009. Credit: KB Yuzhnoe


A scale model of the Mayak 33-4T super-heavy launcher first presented publicly at MAKS-2013 air show.

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