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The Soyuz-3 concept, which had surfaced in 2005, became one of the most radical proposals to date to upgrade the venerable Soyuz series of launchers. Ironically, several previous, less ambitious upgrade projects -- Yamal, Avrora and Onega -- never had a chance to leave a drawing board due to lack of funding.
Yet, with the help of the European commercial launch industry, the Soyuz rockets got modest "makeover" during the 1990s and 2000s, paving the way to the historic decision by the European Space Agency to bring Soyuz rockets to its equatorial launching center in Kourou, French Guiana.
Soyuz's promising career in the European commercial launcher fleet, prompted the RKK Energia, Russia's prime developer of the manned spacecraft, to consider launching its next-generation Kliper spacecraft on the "pumped-up" version of the Soyuz rocket. Not coincidentally, the Soyuz-3 proposals were made public almost simultaneously with final "go-ahead" to the construction of the Soyuz launch pad in Kourou and Russian-European negotiations on the joined development of the Kliper.
In August 2005, scaled mockup of the Soyuz-3 rocket topped with the Kliper spacecraft as its payload was displayed for the first time at the Moscow Air and Space Show, MAKS-2005.
Pros and cons of the Kliper launchers
For its potential role as the launcher of the Kliper, Soyuz-3 competed with two other major candidates -- Ukrainian Zenit and Angara-3 developed by Khrunichev Enterprise in Moscow. Unlike the Zenit, which has been in service since the 1980s, and Angara, whose development inched ahead since mid-1990s, the Soyuz-3 had to be developed from scratch, even with all its extensive heritage technology embedded into its design.
At the time the Soyuz-3 concept made its public debut at Moscow Air Show in August 2005, few technical details on the launcher had been available. During one of the public events in Moscow, a photographer snapped a picture of a space official holding a card with the Soyuz-3 specifications. In the new age of digital photography and the Internet, a reproduction of the card with key specs of the Soyuz-3 easily discernible was orbiting cyberspace long before the officials or industry publications "informed" the public.
The Soyuz-3 apparently borrowed body dimensions for the 1st and 2nd stages from the Avrora project. The top section of the 2nd stage (also known as core or sustainer stage) would have a cylindrical shape with the constant diameter, as oppose to conical shape of its predecessors. Like Avrora, the Soyuz-3 would carry NK-33 engine, inherited from the ill-fated N1 rocket, developed during the Moon Race between the USSR and the United States in the 1960s. However, the scale model apparently lacked RD-110P steering engine on the 2nd stage.
The first stage, traditionally comprised of four conical strap-on boosters, would be equipped with a modified version of the RD-120 engine, borrowed from currently operational Zenit-2 rocket.
Finally, the biggest change would come in the third stage, which sould be developed from scratch and equipped with four RD-0146E engines, burning cryogenically cooled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The basic concept of the engine was also intended for upper stages of the Proton-M and Angara launch vehicles.
Known specifications for the Soyuz-3/Kliper combination (as of mid-2005):
Comparative characteristics of the Soyuz-3 launcher's stages:
Animation of the Kliper launch onboard of the Soyuz-3 rocket. Click to play: QuickTime, 320 x 240 pixels / 568K / 6 seconds
Artist rendering of the Soyuz-3 rocket, carrying the Kliper spacecraft into orbit. Click to enlarge: 300 x 400 pixels / 20K
General view of the Soyuz-3 launch vehicle. Click to enlarge: 157 x 400 pixels / 16K
Major elements of the Soyuz-3 launch vehicle. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 24K