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Previous chapter: Plesetsk facilities
Above: Launch pad for the Angara rocket in Plesetsk circa 2013. Credit: Spetsstroy
Russian military intended to build the primary launch complex for the Angara rocket in Plesetsk, at the site originally intended for the Zenit rocket. The construction of the Zenit launch pad stalled during the first half of the 1990s, and the idea of bringing Zenit to Plesetsk was abandoned altogether due to Russia's financial foes and complex relations with Ukraine, where Zenit was built. During the 1990s, another launch complex for the Angara was also considered for Svobodny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East, however, the level of funding of the Russian space program during the 1990s left these plans on paper. Some schemes of building commercially operated Angara launch sites in the equatorial areas of the world were also discussed over the years, again without any real progress "in the field."
Plesetsk pad holds back Angara
Since 1992, Moscow-based KBTM development center, specialized in launch equipment, was developing a proposal and preliminary design of the launch facilities for the Angara program. The project envisioned maximum use of existing infrastructure in Plesetsk. A dual-pad Versatile Launch Complex, UNK, could be used for all versions of the Angara rocket. Specifically, for the heavyweight Angara-2T launcher, KBTM developed a process of vertical assembly, not typical for the Russian rocket technology.
The work in Plesetsk remained stalled during the 1990s, but started picking up at the beginning of 2000s, prompting Russian officials to promise the first launch in 2003. In June 2005, Khrunichev's representative said that the launch complex for the Angara was 80 percent ready, the state had finally provided funds and the construction was going on at full steam.
In 2004, the Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk started development of a launch platform for the Angara's pad in Plesetsk. According Lt. General Anatoly Bashlakov, the head of Plesetsk Cosmodrome, at the end of July 2006, a giant launch platform 14 meters wide and more than five meters high was delivered to Plesetsk. The structure was made out of 16 segments, each weighing from 20 to 50 tons.
In August 2006, a Russian press quoted the head of Cosmodrome Plesetsk, Lt. General Anatoly Bashlakov as saying that flight tests of the light version of the Angara booster would start in 2010-2011. It became an official line for Roskosmos during 2007. On December 13, 2007, the commander of the Russian space forces, Vladimir Popovkin told the Russian press that all development work during that year was completed successfully and the project remained on schedule for the first test launch at the end of 2010. According to Popovkin, the launch complex for the Angara rocket was 60 percent completed after spending 900 million rubles. Launch hardware started arriving to the pad and its installation was initiated.
In August 2008, the Red Star newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Defense Ministry, reported that at the time, construction workers were conducting assembly of two pieces of the launch platform with the mass of 350 tons each. Around 700 tons of metal was to be used to build the complex, including its thermal resistant layer covering the main flame duct.
At the time, 1,000 specialists and 100 units of machinery worked at the site daily. The newspaper quoted Colonel Oleg Pivovarov, the head of the Plesetsk directorate of the Spetstroi organization, the main contractor at the site, as saying that the pad construction work was approaching a finish line and the installation of the launch pad equipment would start soon.
According to the Red Star, the large portion of the launch facility was located underground as deep as 27 meters. The command blockhouse was located 15 meters below the surface, protected by 1.5 meters of concrete and layers of sand. Total 4.5 kilometers of underground passageways connected various facilities of the launch complex.
At the beginning of 2008, military and the industry publicly clashed on the pre-launch processing of the Angara rocket. Official Russian press quoted the Commander of the Russian space forces, Colonel-General Vladimir Popovkin, insisting that the on-pad time for the Angara rocket was cut from seven to four days. Speaking at the press-conference on January 31, Popovkin said that such operations as the fueling of the upper stage and a number of tests should've been moved from the launch pad to the processing building.
By the end of 2008, Zvezdochka shipyard started the construction of the versatile stand for the assembly of the head section of the Angara rocket with the Briz upper stage. The work was completed at the beginning of 2010, to be followed by the construction of a fueling gantry for the launch pad and an erector-transporter for the rocket. These contracts were to be completed by the end of 2010. (372)
In the meantime in March 2009, Director General of Khrunichev enterprise Vladimir Nesterov told RIA Novosti that his company would need additional three billion rubles in the second and third quarter of 2009 in order to deliver the first Angara rockets to Plesetsk in 2010 and launch them in 2011. Additional 5.7 billion rubles would be needed in 2010 and 1.4 billion in 2011, Nesterov said. As Nesterov explained journalists in a July 19, 2010, press-conference, original contracts for the procurement of launch equipment used inflation rates of the Ministry of Defense, which were significantly lower than inflation rates used by Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, MERT. In turn, MERT rates were also below actual inflation, leading to severe underestimates in the price tag of the launch facility. As a result of the budget deficit, the company was not able to place orders for a portion of the launch hardware. By the middle of 2010, the Russian government decreed to provide additional money, however the amendment disbursing the funds was yet to clear the Duma (parliament) hearings. According to Nesterov, 2.5 years would be required from the arrival of additional money to the completion of the launch complex, thus pushing Angara's maiden mission to the beginning of 2013.
Nesterov's interview echoed a statement by the head of the Angara program at Khrunichev enterprise, Gennady Kleimenov. A month earlier, he told the official Russian media that all funding problems of the Angara's launch complex had been resolved, however, as he put it, "it would not be possible to built the launch facility out of banknotes." The launch hardware was yet to be manufactured, supplied and installed, Kleimenov said.
According to Kleimenov, the construction of the second launch pad for Angara could start in four years, money provided. Despite the preliminary design of the Angara launch facilities called for two launch pads, the funding available up to that time has covered a single pad only.
Nevertheless by the end of 2010, general Abroskin, the head of Spetstroi, the prime developer of the site, said that construction was entering final phases and the launch pad and at the processing complex for the Angara rocket. According to Abroskin engineering hardware was in process of installation at all key facilities of the complex. Testing work had started at some parts of the complex. (445)
In March 2011, a press-release of GKNPTs Khrunichev said that manufacturing, delivery and installation of technical systems for the processing and launch complex of the Angara rocket in Plesetsk was underway. On April 13, 2011, the head of Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov told the Federation Council that by the end of the year 100 percent of hardware for the processing complex and 80 percent of systems for the launch complex of the Angara rocket would be delivered to Plesetsk. (470) Four months later, on August 25, Vechaslav Zelenov, the head of USS 35 branch of Spetstroi, the prime contractor for the complex construction, told journalists that the pad would be completed as scheduled by the first quarter of 2013. He did say about minor delays in supplies of technical hardware, but expressed confidence that all delays could be made up for the on-time completion of the site. According to Zelenov, the entire amount of 1.5 billion rubles allocated for the construction in 2010 had been spent and additional 780 million had been expended by August 1, 2011. Zelenov promised to complete the construction of all pre-launch processing facilities for the Angara rocket in 2011. (511)
By April 13, 2012, Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk completed factory tests of the first of two mobile erectors, which was designed for transportation and the installation of the Angara-1 rocket from horizontal into vertical position on its launch pad in Plesetsk. The 197-ton mechanism went through trials carrying a special truss, which imitated the mass of the rocket. Anticipated wind loads were also represented during tests by special cables, which resisted the movement of the erector. Following the tests of the first erector, Zvezdochka planned similar trials of the 400-ton version of the mechanism, which was designed for the Angara-5 vehicle. The same organization was also responsible for the development of the fueling tower, which had been under construction in Plesetsk at the time.
On May 23, GKNPTs Khrunichev announced that preparations had been underway to ship a "test-stand" prototype of the Angara rocket to Plesetsk. The test article would be used to certify Angara's processing and launch infrastructure and confirm the facility's operational readiness. The 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 claim said that systems of processing and launch complex had been manufactured and installed.
A new bit of information on the status of the project came in September 2012, when the chief of Plesetsk cosmodrome Aleksandr Golovko told the Rossiya 24 TV channel that the development of the processing infrastructure for the Angara had been almost completed and the integrated testing of the Angara-A1 vehicle was scheduled to be conducted before the end of 2012. He added that tests of individual systems and the installation of hardware had been conducted in the final phases of the project.
Hardware components for the Angara launch pad and pre-launch processing complex:
Written by Anatoly Zak; Last update: November 29, 2013
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Aerial view of the Zenit launch pad in Plesetsk circa 1991. Credit: VKS
Artist renderings depicting the rollout and installation of the Angara rocket on its launch pad in Plesetsk. Credit: TsENKI
The launch platform for the Angara rocket soon after the completion of its initial assembly at the manufacturer's plant circa 2007.
The mobile erector for the Angara-1 rocket undergoes testing at Zvezdochka shipyard in the first half of 2012 with the 14I730 light mockup of the Angara rocket simulating electric systems of the actual rocket. Credit: Zvezdochka
Main service gantry of the Angara pad in Plesetsk under construction in April 2013. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense