Long opening of Angara's new production line
In 2016, Russia's new-generation Angara rocket came one step closer to becoming an operational vehicle with the completion of major renovations at its future serial production line in Siberia. By the beginning of the 2020s, the state-of-the-art factory in the city of Omsk should take over the entire manufacturing process for the Angara, churning up as many as 100 booster stages a year.
Russian officials inspect Angara production line in Omsk in 2015.
Too expensive for rockets?
When the Angara project left the drawing board in mid-2000s, the manufacturing of the rocket's initial hardware was centered at Building No. 128 at GKNPTs Khrunichev in Moscow, with the final assembly conducted at next-door Building No. 22. However for the mass production of the rocket, the company turned to the Siberian city of Omsk, the home of the PO Polyot company, which built the now discontinued Kosmos-3M rockets. Initially, the final assembly of the Angara would still be conducted in Moscow, before a fully integrated production line could be established in Omsk.
One of the reasons prompting GKNPTs Khrunichev to shift its production as far as Siberia was the skyrocketing cost of real estate in Moscow, making the Russian capital one of the most expensive cities in the world at the turn of the 21st century. As a result, Khrunichev's vast campus in the district of Fili, on the shore of the Moscow River, turned out to be one of its most valuable assets. By selling some of its land to commercial developers, GKNPTs Khrunichev hoped to straighten its shaky financial position and raise badly needed cash for modernization of its aging infrastructure. The PO Polyot company in Omsk, with its low-cost workforce and dormant capacity, could be a sensible alternative. Khrunichev's officials hoped that the move to Omsk would eventually help bring down the cost of the Angara's production to as low as the target price for the Proton rocket, which was set in 2016 at 1,381 billion rubles ($21.6 million). However Soviet-era facilities in Omsk themselves required major renovations.
The first Angara rocket was assembled and outfitted in Moscow.
Moving to Omsk
Khrunichev formally absorbed PO Polyot at the end of 2007 and in the same year, technical documentation and blueprints for the Angara reportedly began arriving in Omsk. In 2008, Khrunichev officials promised major upgrade of the manufacturing facilities in the city. Also in 2008, a team of specialists from PO Polyot worked at Khrunichev's plant in Moscow on the manufacturing of elements for the South-Korean KSLV rocket, which closely resembled the URM-1 booster of the Angara. During 2009, the production line for the KSLV in Moscow was to be dismantled and re-assembled in Omsk, for the benefit of the Angara program. (322)
Beginning in 2009, PO Polyot was to take responsibility for the production of the Briz-KM upper stage for the Rockot booster, as well as Rockot's adapter rings and payload fairings. Also, the manufacturing of all key elements for the Angara-1.2 version of the rocket would end up in Omsk as well.
By 2010, it was decided that the Angara-5 would have to be preceded by a test launch of the light-weight Angara-1 rocket. As a result, PO Polyot planned to produce the first Angara-1 rocket and five URM-1 boosters for the heavy Angara-5 by 2012. The company was expected to turn out 60 URM stages annually for 10 Angara-5 rockets and 10 Angara-1.2s by 2015 and as many as 120 boosters per year were to be produced to support 20 missions annually by 2020, the official ITAR-TASS news agency promised, quoting director at PO Polyot Grigory Murakhovsky.
According to Murakhovsky, the Angara production required a massive reconstruction of the obsolete factories at PO Polyot with a planned price tag of 3,349 billion rubles, including 771 million in 2009. Around 300 million were to be spent on purchases of new manufacturing tools and equipment. He said that not all of the 329 million rubles allocated for the project in 2008 had been provided and the resulting deficit was included in the 2009 funding schedule. Murakhovsky said that active modernization of the plant had been underway, 15 high-tech metal-processing machines had been ordered and the installation of new hardware and software was expected to be completed by the end of 2009. (342)
The project ultimately took more than five years to complete. By the end of the renovations in Omsk in 2014, its price tag reportedly reached more than seven billion rubles, or more than twice of the original estimate. According to local officials more than 300 new pieces of manufacturing hardware had been procured and production facilities with a total area of 38,000 square meters had been renovated.
Preparing full-cycle production in Omsk
The second round of upgrades started at Angara's production plant in Omsk during 2015 at a reported price tag of six billion rubles (in addition to the seven billion spent on the first round from 2009 to 2014). By that time, the first launch of the Angara-5 had already taken place and the serial production of the rocket was becoming a reality. Imported state-of-the-art machines for manufacturing of tanks as large as four meters in diameter were installed at Building No. 12, where special foundations had to be built first.
Head of GKNPTs Khrunichev Andrei Kalinovsky explains the work of machinists welding components of the Angara rocket at PO Polyot to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (in red jacket) and head of Roskosmos Igor Komarov (to Rogozin's left).
At the end of June 2015, a big delegation of space officials led by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited Omsk on their way to Vostochny. At the time, the full cycle of serial production of the Angara rocket was expected to begin in Omsk between 2018 and 2021. Only then, apparently, would it be possible to avoid sending rocket stages to Moscow for final outfitting and checks and to ship them directly to launch sites in Plesetsk or Vostochny.
GKNPTs Khrunichev's Moscow facility was still expected to manufacture upper stages for Angara, such as the next-generation KVTK booster and the MOB-KVTK space tug for prospective human missions into deep space.
Russian officials and official media liked to proclaim Angara-5 to be an all-Russian rocket, whose components would be produced entirely inside the Russian Federation, without any reliance on the former republics of the USSR, first of all Ukraine. However the real extent of such "non-reliance" turned to be open to interpretation. In August 2014, just months after the annexation of Crimea, there were reports that the Russian government allocated more than a billion rubles for the Voronezh Mechanical Plant, VMZ, to build a production line by 2016 for manufacturing pressurized titanium tanks. They are installed on launch vehicles to supply high-pressure helium gas for pneumatic systems of rocket engines. As it turned out, until that time such tanks had been manufactured at KB Yuzhnoe's production plant in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. Russia's Proton and Angara rockets as well as Briz-M upper stage (which would be part of Angara-5) were listed among the recipients of the Ukrainian gas tanks.
Only in August 2018, Roskosmos announced that the first batch of titanium tanks, produced according to the design documentation from the KB Salyut design bureau, had been shipped from VMZ to PO Polyot in Omsk, after undergoing tests at KB Salyut.
2016: Angara serial production line delayed again
Footage released in 2019 showed an assembly hall in Omsk with components of URM-1 boosters which were likely intended for the third Angara-5 rocket. Components for the fourth rocket were also in the view in the same hall.
In July 2016, the head of GKNPTs Khrunichev Andrei Kalinovsky confirmed to the Izvestiya daily that 11 URM-1 boosters would be produced per year until 2020, enough to assemble a pair of Angara-5 rockets and one Angara-1.2 a year during that five-year period. Operating in three shifts, the serial production plant for the Angara family in Omsk could turn up 100 URM-1 modules for 20 rockets per year, Kalinovsky said, however he did not specify when such a manufacturing rate would be reached.
Around the same time, the Spetsstroi military construction agency informed the Gazeta.ru web site that it was putting the finishing touches on the new production facility for the Angara rocket at PO Polyot's Hall 66 in Omsk.
The full production complex included two already completed production halls and a power conversion station. The latest facility would include clean-room equipment and an X-ray chamber for inspection of large components, both of which were all in the final stages of installation, making the production line ready for opening by the end of July 2016. According to Kalinovsky, the new facility would be used to begin the work on the third and fourth Angara-5 rockets in the second half of 2016.
Switching to digital
During 2016, GKNPTs Khrunichev also hoped to finally switch from traditional to computer design of the Angara rocket. The company began digitizing blueprints for the rocket in 2015 and by the end of that year completed around 55 percent of the transition process, Kalinvosky told RIA Novosti. The blueprints for the URM-1 booster module were digitized first and, by April 2016, engineers began working on designs for the URM-2 stage and on the payload section.
Footage released in 2019 showed the main assembly hall in Omsk with components of URM-1 boosters which were likely intended for the third Angara-5 rocket (Vehicle No. 71753 - background) and the fourth Angara-5 (Vehicle No. 71754 - foreground).
All ambitious plans for mass production of the Angara rocket hit a serious snag in 2017. According to unofficial reports, the second Angara-5 rocket, which was assembled in Omsk, ended up being unfit for flight due to defects. Moreover, the head of Roskosmos Igor Komarov admitted that due to funding cuts, the new production site in Omsk could be left underused. During the rest of 2017, GKNPTs Khrunichev remained mum about the next Angara launch.
In an interview with the Izvestiya daily published on Jan. 17, 2018, Director General of GKNPTs Khrunichev, Aleksei Varochko said that three Angara-1.2 and three Angara-A5 rockets had been in production and the company had still been waiting for any further orders. According to Varochko, until 2022, the manufacturing of the URM-2 stage and the integrated testing of the Angara-5 rockets would be conducted in Moscow, allowing to produce a total of six vehicles, all of which had already been in production. Beginning with the seventh vehicle (apparently yet to be ordered), the manufacturing would switch to Omsk, where it would be conducted according to the new design documentation and with the use of friction welding process, Varochko said.
On August 28, 2018, the Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov, along with a presidential envoy Andrey Belousov and the Minister of Economic Development Maksim Oreshkin, personally toured the factory in Omsk to review the issues facing PO Polyot. At the time, the officials discussed the prospects of building the Checkout and Test Station, KIS, in Omsk and the opening of the electroplating shop, which has apparently remained one of the stumbling blocks in organizing the full line of production at the site. At the time, PO Polyot was also yet to begin the high-tech production of pipelines and and the assembly of payload fairings, Roskosmos said.
Angara rockets during production in Omsk on December 19, 2020.
In 2018, the third set of rocket stages for the Angara rocket began finally taking shape at the renovated assembly Hall 66 in Omsk. In May 2019, Head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin promised that serial production of the Angara rocket would begin in Omsk in 2023.
Rogozin returned to PO Polyot on June 22, 2019, along with GKNPTs Khrunichev director Aleksei Varochko and the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Aleksandr Sergeev. They were met by the Director of PO Polyot V.M. Shuliko and the Governor of the Omsk Region A.L. Burkov. According to Roskosmos, the officials visited the (existing) hall for the production of rocket tanks, but also inspected new facilities introduced in 2019, including the hall for the galvanic-chemical coating and the chamber for painting and drying (of rocket stages). They also saw the Control and Checkout Station, KIS, which was promised to be ready in 2019, but would not be completed until Fall of 2022.
Still, the renovations at PO Polyot would continue into 2020, including the work on the cryogenic washing facility for tank structures, the external heating network and other production and administrative facilities, Roskosmos said.
During his visit to Omsk, Rogozin announced that four Angara-5 rockets per year would produced at PO Polyot beginning in 2022 and no less than eight Angara-5 and two Angara-1.2 rockets would be rolled out annually starting in 2024.
In September 2019, Roskosmos head Dmitry Rogozin promised to roll out the third and fourth Angara rockets in April and November 2020 respectively. He also said that two more rockets would be completed in 2021, four vehicles would be produced annually from 2022 to 2024, when the planned production rate of eight Angara-5 and two Angara-1 rockets per year would be reached. However, only on Feb. 6, 2021, Rogozin posted photos of URM-1 boosters for the third Angara-5 rocket being loaded in rail cars in Omsk in preparation for shipment to Moscow for tests at GKNPTs Khrunichev's Rocket and Space Plant, RKZ.
In August 2022, Roskosmos promised to complete all the upgrades of the Angara production line in Omsk by the end of 2024.
Summary of renovations at PO Polyot in Omsk for the Angara production:
Installation of cable equipment on the static prototype of the Angara rocket at Hall 66 in Omsk. Credit: PO Polyot
A section of the Angara propellant tank during welding. Credit: PO Polyot
A completed section of the Angara propellant tank is rolled for welding with other components. Credit: PO Polyot
A bulkhead for Angara's propellant tank is being prepared for welding with its cylindrical section. Credit: PO Polyot
Work inside the tank section of the Angara rocket in Omsk. Credit: PO Polyot
An oxygen tank (top) and a kerosene tank for the URM-1 booster during production inside renovated facility in Omsk in 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: PO Polyot
Click to enlarge. Credit: PO Polyot
Angara production line in Omsk. Credit: PO Polyot
Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
URM-1 boosters for the third Angara-5 rocket are being prepared for shipment from Omsk to Moscow around early February 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos