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Angara completes its maiden mission

The first space rocket developed in the post-Soviet Russia finally flew on July 9, 2014.

The first launch of the Angara rocket was initially scheduled for June 27, 2014, at 15:15 Moscow Time (7:15 a.m. EDT). The custom-built rocket designated Angara-1.2 Pervy Polyot (First Flight) or Angara-1.2PP was scheduled to blast off from Russia's northern launch site in Plesetsk and carry a simulated cargo on a ballistic arc without reaching orbit. The flight was expected to last 21.8 minutes.

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Previous chapter: Preparations for the first launch of the Angara rocket

Official specifications of the Angara-1.2PP rocket:

Liftoff mass
171 tons
Dry mass
18 tons
Mass of the dummy payload
1.43 tons
42.8 meters
Powered flight time
8.45 minutes
Total flight time
21.28 minutes
Flight control mode
Fully autonomous



Above: Angara-1.2 rocket configured for the first suborbital test launch. Copyright © 2014 Anatoly Zak


Above: Rollout of the Angara-1.2PP rocket to the launch pad on June 25, 2014.

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Flight profile

During several years of preparations for the Angara's maiden voyage, official Russian sources released very little information on the configuration of the rocket or its flight profile. Mostly from unofficial sources and available photographs it became clear that in 2010 specifically for the first test launch, the Angara's developer -- GKNPTs Khrunichev -- had decided to built a unique, custom-designed vehicle under the designation Angara-1.2PP. The rocket also had the industrial index 14A125-01 No. 71601.

The first stage of the Angara-1.2PP consisted of a single URM-1 rocket module, which would be later used by standard Angara-1 and Angara-5 rockets. As its second stage, the Angara-1.2PP would use the URM-2 rocket module, in order to certify it for the flight of the Angara-5 rocket. However the operational Angara-1.2 rocket would fly all its future missions with a smaller upper stage, matching the diameter of its first stage -- 2.9 meters. In 2011, it was decided to drop the Briz-M upper stage (which was expected to fly without its usual external tank) from the mission and do not enter orbit during the launch.

On its first suborbital flight, Angara would carry an instrumentation payload for measuring and transmitting data about various technical parameters during all phases of the mission. During the initial flight through the atmosphere, this payload would be protected by a fairing.

The rocket would lift off from Angara's brand-new launch facility at Site 35 in Plesetsk. According to official information released several hours before scheduled liftoff on June 27, the first stage's RD-191 engine was expected to complete its firing in less than four minutes, bringing the rocket to an altitude of around 118 kilometers. The first stage should separate from the second stage with the help of two solid-propellant motors 803DT installed on the transfer section, which would remain attached to the first stage during the separation.

Then, the second stage's RD-0124A engine would fire, propelling its cargo further into the space, but short of reaching orbital velocity. According to the KBKhA design bureau, which developed the RD-0124A, the engine was designed to fire for seven minutes (424 seconds) during Angara's operational missions.

Based on the first flight of the Soyuz-2 rocket in 2004, which also followed a suborbital trajectory, it is possible to speculate that after a vertical takeoff from Plesetsk, the Angara-1.2PP will head east over the Russian territory. As a result, a big part of the rocket's trajectory will be within view of Russian ground control stations.

Under most scenarios, the empty first stage and the two halves of the payload fairing (which normally jettisons around 28 seconds after the separation of the first stage) would fall around 2,860 kilometers from the launch site, followed by the impact of the the second stage along with its instrumention payload on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the home of the Kura test range routinely used as a target for test launches of Russian ballistic missiles. Various sensors installed around the rocket for measuring temperature, vibrations and other parameters could gather performance data, which would be transmitted to ground stations during the flight via a special instrumentation payload mounted on the URM-2 stage. It will remain attached to the URM-2, as it reenters the atmosphere and impacts the ground.

The technical experience and engineering data acquired during the flight would pave the way for the inaugural launch of the heavy Angara-5 rocket in 2015. In addition, all systems of the new launch facility in Plesetsk would be also tested before the arrival of the Angara-5 to the same pad.

Launch attempt on June 27

According to the official Russian media, on June 27, 2014, the events in Plesetsk proceeded as scheduled and fueling of the launch vehicle had started. The launch facility at Site 35, where the rocket was expected to lift off, had been evacuated. However shortly before the scheduled launch, the automated flight control system aborted the mission. The officials then reportedly called for a 24-hour delay.

During the launch attempt, the official Rossiya-24 TV channel conducted its "live" reportage from the Titov Flight Control and Testing center, however a reporter on screen continued with his usual pre-launch trivia as the time of the liftoff came and went and the circle indicating the rocket on the tracking monitor behind the reporter started moving along the ascent trajectory. In the next few seconds, a presenter said that the launch had just taken place, then that it had been postponed for an hour and, finally, that it had to be delayed for 24 hours.

According to a reliable source on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki web forum, a leaky valve on the rocket had to be replaced before the next launch attempt.

The live audio, which was available during the final minutes of the countdown, indicated that the launch officer called a 40-second readiness for liftoff before reporting a scrub. According to a veteran of the Baikonur Cosmodrome and the Russian space historian Vladimir Antipov, the scrub at that moment could indicate a failure in the pneumatic and hydraulic system activating the rocket's propulsion system. A screenshot of the launch countdown clock, which had surfaced on the Internet, indicated a scrub at T-1 minute 19.7 seconds. It then transpired that the loss of pressure in a flexible gas line of the propulsion system caused the delay.

It could take as long as a week to fix the problem, industry sources said on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki web forum. GKNPTs Khrunichev, the Angara's manufacturer then posted a one-line press-release saying that the date of the next launch attempt would be announced later.

According to other sources, a valve on the oxidizer line failed, which could require to return the rocket to the assembly building, to cut out the device and weld in the new valve. Due to a built-in nature of the valve, the return of the rocket to the manufacturing plant in Moscow could also be required, likely postponing the mission for weeks.

NPO Energomash explains Angara's launch abort

On July 1, NPO Energomash, a Moscow-based company that developed the RD-191 engine for the first stage of the Angara rocket, issued a press-release detailing the situation that had led to the scrub of the launch on June 27. According to the company, the emergency stop to the launch sequence took place 79 seconds before a scheduled liftoff due to loss of pressure in a spherical bottle used to pressurize the oxidizer tank. The press-release stressed that the pressurization bottle was not part of the rocket's RD-191 D012 engine, which was to be filled with fuel 19 seconds after the scrub. The company did not explain what had been the culprit in the loss of pressure or whether it had been the only problem during the launch attempt.

It is possible that NPO Energomash referred to the same glitch where a failed valve had been a culprit. According to the official Interfax news agency, quoting unnamed sources, investigators considered three possible failure sources:

  • Sensors in the oxidizer tank;
  • Oxidizer pressurization system;
  • Drainage valve in the oxidizer tank.

The following inspection of the rocket confirmed that the oxidizer tank drainage valve had remained in open position and led to the loss of pressure, which had been detected by the flight control system shortly before liftoff. It was not immediately clear what caused the valve to stuck, but all oxidizer systems operate in the environment of the cryogenically cooled liquid oxygen and prone to freezing as a result.

Preparing second attempt

On June 30, Russian authorities again issued a warning to pilots to avoid areas around the Kura impact range on the Kamchatka Peninsula, indicating that another launch attempt was scheduled for July 1 and July 2, 2014. Given the short time available for repairs, it could indicate that only basic checks would be done on the rocket and its flight control system could be just reprogrammed to ignore the problem with the valve.

However by the end of the day, official Russian media reported that the State Commission overseeing the launch made a decision to remove the rocket from the launch pad, thus ending any prospects of its liftoff on July 1. Despite some reports to the contrary, the Russian Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that the Angara-1.2PP had been removed from the launch pad and returned to the assembly building on July 2. At the same time, RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed representative of the GKNPTs Khrunichev as saying that the return of the rocket to the company's factory in Moscow would not be required in order to fix the faulty valve.

On July 5, Russian authorities again scheduled a closure of the airspace on the Kamchatka Peninsula for July 9, 2014, from noon until 18:27 Moscow Time. On the same day, the head of the Scientific and Technical Council of the newly created United Rocket and Space Corporation, ORKK, Yuri Koptev confirmed to the Interfax news agency that the fixing the problem with the rocket had not required major disassembly and the new launch attempt could be made soon. By the end of the day on July 5, the State Commission overseeing the launch held a meeting, which gave green light to the second launch attempt on July 9. The launch vehicle was rolled out to the launch pad for the second time on July 7. The final meeting of the State Commission to clear the rocket for the liftoff was scheduled for July 9.

July 9, 2014: Launch!


Above: Angara-1.2 rocket lifts off from Plesetsk on July 9, 2014.

The State Commission met again on July 9 and gave a green light to the fueling of the vehicle just hours before its scheduled liftoff at 16:00 Moscow Time (8 a.m. EST), the official Russian media reported. The live coverage of the first aborted launch attempt watched by the Russian president Vladimir Putin was apparently considered as a major embarrassment by the Russian space officials, leading to a ban of TV broadcasts during the launch of the Meteor-M2 satellite on July 8 and leaving practically no chance for the Russian public to see the historic first launch of the Angara as it happened.

With no live coverage of the event, the Russian Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin confirmed the launch in his Twitter feed with just two words: "Angara yest" (There is Angara), minutes after its scheduled liftoff. According to Russian space officials quoted by state-controlled TV soon after the flight, the suborbital mission of the Angara-1.2PP vehicle proceeded nominally.

The Zvezda TV channel of the Russian Ministry of Defense reported that the liftoff took place at 16:04 Moscow Time, while all other sources put the launch at 16:00. According to a press-release from GKNPTs Khrunichev, the vehicle lifted off "in the middle of the day." The exact launch time was later confirmed to be 16:00:00 Moscow Time.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the first stage of the rocket separated four minutes after the liftoff, while the vehicle was flying in the projected area over the southern Barents Sea and in the range of the Russian ground control network. The main engine of the second stage was shut down as planned at 16:08 Moscow Time and the stage along with a payload mockup fell in the projected area of the Kura impact range on the Kamchatka Peninsula 5,700 kilometers from the launch site, 21 minutes after liftoff.

Next chapter: First flight of the Angara-5 rocket

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The Angara-1.2PP rocket flight sequence:


Stage I separation
3 minutes 42 seconds (T+222 seconds)
Payload fairing separation
3 minutes 52 seconds (T+232 seconds)
Stage II engine cutoff
8 minutes 11 seconds (T+491 seconds)
Stage II impact on the Kamchatka Peninsula
21 minutes ?? seconds (~1,260 seconds)


The Angara-1.2PP rocket and its mission at a glance:

Stage I propellant mass
130 tons
Stage II propellant mass*
36 tons
Payload fairing mass
710 kilograms (?)
Launch site
Plesetsk, Site 35
Stage I impact site
Barents Sea, southeast of the Kolguev Island (a.k.a Pechorskoye Sea)
Stage II impact site
Kamchatka Peninsula, Kura impact range
Flight range
5,700 kilometers
Flight duration
21 minutes



Writing and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: September 29, 2014

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: June 18, 2014

All rights reserved






Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense


Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense


Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense


Rollout of the Angara-1.2PP rocket to the launch pad on June 25, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Den Efremov


Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense

Impact site

The impact site for the second stage of the Angara-1.2PP rocket at the Kura test range on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Credit: Government of Kamchatsky Krai


A flight traejectory of the Angara-1.2PP rocket as seen on one of the monitors of the Titov Flight Control and Testing center.


The Angara-1.2PP rocket shortly before its aborted launch attempt on June 27, 2014.

scrub time

The countdown clock for the Angara's first launch attempt on June 27, 2014, stopped one minute, 19 seconds before a schduled liftoff.


Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Angara-1.2PP lifts off from Plesetsk on July 9, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Denis Efremov