Roskosmos to break ground at the new Angara pad
After many delays, Roskosmos finally issued a contract for the development of the launch pad for the Angara rocket at Russia's Vostochny spaceport on October 3. However, for the most of the year, the activities at the site were limited to tree clearing.
Satellite photos taken during 2018 show first signs of development at the site of the future Angara pad.
The first construction activities for the Angara pad in Vostochny actually started thousands of miles away in Severodvinsk on Russia's northern coast at the Zvezdochka shipyard. The company specialized in repairs of sea vessels got a contract for the manufacturing of large-scale metal structures for the Angara pad, as well as for some components of the rocket's transporter-erector and access bridges of the service tower.
By July, Zvezdochka had already built two 88-ton structural beams for the launch platform, according to the official TASS news agency.
In the meantime, in April, Dmitry Rogozin, (at the time still in capacity of Deputy Prime Minister), directed Roskosmos to begin the construction of the pad in Vostochny in May, for which he ordered the formation of a dedicated operational headquarters at the site within a month. During a meeting of the special commission on the project, Rogozin expressed concern that the Angara facility would not be ready by the end of 2021 as planned, unless the construction started in the middle of May.
On May 24, 2018, Roskosmos State Corporation announced that in the middle of that month, Russia's federal auditing agency, Glavgoseksprtiza, had approved for the Angara launch facility in Vostochny. The work on the second phase of the Vostochny development (which included the Angara pad) would begin in June 2018, the state corporation said at the time. According to Roskosmos, in December 2017, the Russian government had selected PSO Kazan company as the general contractor for the development of the Angara pad in Vostochny, which at the time was scheduled to host its first launch in 2021. PSO Kazan was charged with developing the working documentation for the project, the construction itself and the supplies of engineering hardware listed in the project and working documentation, Roskosmos said.
PSO Kazan replaced the Ministry of Defense contractors who had withdrawn from the project in 2017. PSO Kazan, owned by Ravil Ziganshin, who also happens to be a Member of State Council of the Tatar Republic, previously won lucrative state contracts to build sports arenas in Kazan for the student games in 2013 and in Samara, for the World Football Cup in 2018.
According to Roskosmos, the total investment into the launch facility would be 38.749 billion rubles (approximately $650 million). It included 0.983 billion for the development of the working documentation. The project had to be completed by Dec. 31, 2022, Roskosmos said. The planned facilities included the launch pad, the cable and fueling tower, the transporter-erector, the launch control blockhouse, fueling and fire-suppression systems and other hardware, Roskosmos said.
A year earlier, estimates put the price tag for the complex at 58 billion rubles extending until 2023. However, according to the latest plans, the construction of a dedicated assembly and processing building for the rocket was deferred until the next phase in funding from 2023 to 2025. In the interim, the storage and preparation of the Angara rockets and their payloads would be conducted at the technical facilities for the Soyuz-2 rockets and at the existing spacecraft processing facility in Vostochny, Roskosmos said. The launch pad itself would also need eventual upgrades if it was to accommodate the Angara-5V variant, in addition to Angara-5.
On June 14, Interfax quoted Rogozin (now appointed to lead Roskosmos) as saying that "In July, (we are) coming with shovels to the new flame trench for the Angara launch vehicle." However, when July did come, Roskosmos promised only to sign contracts with the developers at the beginning of August, while the construction was now promised to start in the first decade of the same month. At the beginning of August, the contract signing had already slipped to the end of the month, while the actual work at the pad had moved to the beginning of September.
In an August 16 interview with the official TASS news agency, Rogozin said that the construction was expected to take 45 months (nearly four years), however he refused to explain why the long-delayed project had remained stalled.
At the end of August, ChTPZ enterprise announced that it supplied first 130 tons of seamless pipes to AO Tyazhmash. The pipes with a diameter of 426 millimeters and a wall thickness of 25 millimeters were intended for the construction of the service tower and the lifting equipment at the new launch facility in Vostochny. A total of 170 tons of pipes was scheduled to be delivered before the end of August.
On Sept. 4, 2018, Roskosmos announced that AO Uralkriomash, a cryogenic hardware division of the Ural Vagon Zavod, UVZ, based in the city of Nizhniy Tagil in the Ural Region, had shipped first 180-cubic-meter propellant storage tanks for the Angara-5 launch facility in Vostochny. The tanks followed an initial batch of equipment for the Angara pad shipped to Vostochny earlier, the company said.
For the new Angara pad, AO Uralkriomash was contracted to build fueling systems for kerosene and oxygen, as well as the water supply system to the launch pad. Another batch of hardware for the complex built at Uralkriomash would be delivered in the fall and the entire set of equipment would be shipped to the launch site before the end of 2019. A team of specialists from AO Uralkriomash was also scheduled to go to Vostochny for participation in autonomous and integrated tests of the system, the company said.
In parallel with the first hardware deliveries for the construction of the Angara pad in Vostochny, Roskosmos apparently made plans for a ceremonial signing of the contract officially kicking off the development of the future launch facility. The document was scheduled to be signed by the Head of PSO Kazan Ravil Ziganshin, the prime contractor in the project, and by Dmitry Rogozin, during his first visit to Vostochny in his capacity of the Roskosmos head on September 7. However, a yet another bureaucratic glitch with documents forced to delay the signing until at least the following week, RIA Novosti reported.
On September 7, Roskosmos State Corporation announced that Rogozin along with Acting Governor of the Amur Region Vasily Orlov and Director General of PSO Kazan Ravil Ziganshin, had inspected the future construction site for the Angara rocket. According to Roskosmos, Rogozin also chaired a working meeting in Vostochny. "We are starting the construction of the second launch complex in Vostochny," Rogozin announced. A month later, he promised the first launch of the Angara-5 rocket from Vostochny in 2023 and the first flight of the Angara-5V rocket from the same upgraded facility in 2026.
On October 3, Roskosmos finally confirmed the signing of a contract between its Vostochny Directorate and PSO Kazan, the prime developer of the launch pad. Ironically, the long-delayed ceremony almost coincided with a lawsuit against PSO Kazan from Russia's state-run housing authority, GosZhilFond, which demanded the return of a loan, plus interest and fines totaling more than one billion rubles ($15.8 million).
In the meantime, the latest satellite photos showed new signs of tree-clearing activities at the site of the Angara pad in Vostochny. By October 8, the entire area of the future launch facility appeared to be cleared. According to Dmitry Rogozin, quoted by the Interfax news agency on October 5, the clearing at the site started at the end of August and the digging of the flame deflector for the pad, for which the earth-moving equipment had already been dispatched, would begin within days. "It would be a small exaggeration to say that the construction is de-facto underway," Rogozin said. The pouring of concrete was planned to begin at the site at the end of Spring 2019, according to Rogozin.
Ink was barely dry on a contract for the development of the future Angara launch facility in Vostochny, when serious questions came up about the finances of the primary player in the multi-billion-ruble project. On November 28, the Russian federal tax service filed a lawsuit demanding bankruptcy of the PSO Kazan construction company, which had just closed a deal with Roskosmos to build the Angara pad. The tax authority alleged that PSO Kazan owed 1.95 billion rubles ($29.5 million) in previous projects, the Regnum news service reported. Due to paperwork problems, the court in Tatarstan, where PSO Kazan is based, asked the government to resubmit its complaint, which it did on November 30 and the court then allowed the case to proceed and promised the decision on December 20.
According to the local press in Tatarstan, PSO Kazan failed to complete a number of major projects in the republic and elsewhere in Russia and barely met deadline for a high-profile stadium in the city of Samara by the opening of the FIFA's 2018 football cap championship in June.
At the beginning of December, representatives of PSO Kazan told Russian media that their company had settled the case and avoided bankruptcy. Still, according to the Kommersant newspaper, Roskosmos expressed concerns that the prime contractor might not be able to complete the project and explored its urgent replacement. Obviously, the situation threatened to delay the introduction of the critically needed facility.
At the time, the construction of the launch site was in the initial stage and was not expected to reach full steam until 2019. Still, a satellite photo taken on November 25 revealed a considerable excavation work near the expected locations of underground facilities and around the foundation of the launch pad. However, as of October 5, the 31st State Design Institute, traditionally responsible for ground infrastructure for the Russian rocket industry, had only begun developing the working documentation for the construction and, according to the official schedule, would not complete the paperwork until Sept. 30, 2019. The same schedule also called for the completion of temporary infrastructure, including roads, buildings and aerial power lines at the construction site by November 30. The tree clearing had to be completed by Feb. 15, 2019.
In the meantime, Tyazhmash, a company in the city of Syzran, announced that on November 17 its specialists had begun mechanical processing of structural components for the first section of the fueling and umbilical tower, which would be the key element of the Angara's pad. Each section of the tower, made of two types of lattice pipe elements, has a mass of 30 tons and height of three meters. A total of 44 components will comprise the 17-level dual tower, with three levels of access bridges and two connecting cross beams. The tower would have to be partially assembled at the Tyazhmash campus for tests, before being taken apart again, so its components could be shipped to the launch site and re-assembled at their final location, the company said.
Read (and see) much more about Angara rockets and many other space projects in Russia
A scale model of the Angara launch pad demonstrated at the Armiya military show in August 2018. Credit: Roskosmos
Propellant storage tanks for the Angara launch facility departed for Vostochny around August 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Clearing of the future Angara launch site in Vostochny circa August 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin at the future construction site for the Angara rocket in Vostochny on September 7. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
A satellite photo of Vostochny on Oct. 8, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Novosti Kosmonavtiki
A satellite image of Vostochny on Oct. 30, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Novosti Kosmonavtiki