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The Soyuz-5 launch vehicle

Special section written and illustrated by Anatoly Zak; Editor: Alain Chabot

The Soyuz-5 next-generation space launcher was designed to replace the medium-class Zenit vehicles built in Ukraine and provide Russia with a first-stage booster for the future super-heavy rocket. Roskosmos hoped to that the low-cost vehicle would complement the Angara family of rockets for domestic needs and would make Russia competitive again on the international launch market.


The Soyuz-5 rocket family as of 2017 (left to right): The launch vehicle for the PTK Federatsiya spacecraft; a launch vehicle with the Block DM-SL upper stage for the Sea Launch platform; a launch vehicle with Block DM-SLB upper stage compatible with launch pad at Site 45 in Baikonur Cosmodrome. As of 2020, only Baikonur-based version of the rocket had been allocated any significant funding.

Soyuz-5 rocket at a glance:

Number of stages 2 or 3
Stage I propulsion One four-chamber RD-171MV engine (Insider Content)
Stage II propulsion Two two-chamber RD-0124MS engines
Stage III configurations Block DM or Fregat-SBU
Payload to low Earth orbit 17 tons
Launch site Baikonur, Site 45


insider content

2015: Methane-burning Soyuz-5

Despite budget cuts at the end of 2015, the Russian government promised to give the go ahead to the development of a new launcher family, which could finally replace the medium-class Soyuz and Zenit rockets. Moreover, the new rocket was also positioned as a stepping stone toward the super-heavy booster.


2016: Sunkar concept

In January 2016, representatives of Roskosmos met with their Kazakh counterparts to discuss the fate of the long-delayed Baiterek project and directed the industry to consider various alternatives to the Ukrainian-built Zenit. By the middle of the year, the industry came up with a concept dubbed Sunkar, or "falcon" in Kazakh.


2017: Final concept emerges

In 2017, engineers at RKK Energia began work on the preliminary design of the new medium-class launch vehicle to replace Zenit. Designated Soyuz-5, the new rocket was seen at the time as a carrier of Russian cosmonauts into orbit and paving the way to a super-heavy rocket. The Kremlin also saw the vehicle as the response to the challenges on the commercial launch market.


2018: Preliminary design (INSIDER CONTENT)

By April, the Russian space industry had completed the preliminary design of the Soyuz-5 launch vehicle, designed to defend Russia's shaken positions on the international commercial launch market, which is increasingly dominated by the American Falcon rockets.


2019: Detailing the design (INSIDER CONTENT)

During 2019, the Roskosmos States Corporation had the difficult task of initiating the full-scale development of the next-generation Soyuz-5 rocket, while, simultaneously, completing the production line for the Angara family and funding its upgrades.


2020: Soyuz-5 turns to metal (INSIDER CONTENT)

During 2020, RKTs Progress was moving ahead with setting up the manufacturing line for the Soyuz-5 medium-size launch vehicle also known as Irtysh, despite some lingering doubts about its operational prospects and commercial competitiveness.


2021: The Soyuz-5 rocket project enters experimental phase (INSIDER CONTENT)

The Russian space industry finalized the design of the Soyuz-5 launch vehicle and began ground testing of its components, while Roskosmos worked on closing a deal with Kazakhstan for the rocket's launch facility.


2023: The Soyuz-5 rocket might need a new launch pad (INSIDER CONTENT)

Due to actions of the Kazakh government, likely in response to the war in Ukraine, the Soyuz-5 project ran into a costly dilemma over its launch site in 2023, with the potential to derail the program.


From the publisher: Pace of our development depends primarily on the level of support from our readers!


Stage 1

Stage I

The most unusual structural feature of the Soyuz-5 launch vehicle will be its first stage, which combines the caliber from the two "classic" Soviet rockets -- Zenit and Proton.


Stage I propulsion: RD171MV

To propel the first stage of the next-generation Soyuz-5 launch vehicle, Roskosmos chose a modified version of the mighty RD-171 engine inherited from the Energia and Zenit rockets.

Stage 2

Stage II

The second stage of the Soyuz-5 launch vehicle will be propelled by a pair of two-chamber RD-0124M engines, forming a four-chamber propulsion system, which can be used to control the trajectory of the flight with a steering mechanism developed at RKTs Progress in Samara.


Stage II propulsion: RD-0124MS

In 2017, NPO Energomash announced a new version of the RD-0124 engine, which was designated RD-0124M and intended for the second stage of the Sunkar/Soyuz-5 project. Despite its name, the new version was radically different from its predecessors, requiring major efforts and time for its development.


Block DM upper stage

During its early launches, the two-stage Soyuz-5 booster combination was expected to be topped with a space tug inherited from the prolific Block DM family of upper stages.


Fregat-SBU upper stage

To boost the capabilities of the Soyuz-5 in accessing geostationary orbits, Roskosmos also made plans to equip Soyuz-5 with an upgraded version of the Fregat-SB space tug, which was previously flying on Zenit rockets based in Baikonur.


How Soyuz-5 is built (INSIDER CONTENT)

The Soyuz-5 project gave Roskosmos an opportunity to introduce the latest manufacturing techniques in the early stage of the rocket development and, hopefully, avoid the kind of lengthy transition to a modern production processes that had marred the previous-generation Angara program.


Transporting Soyuz-5 (INSIDER CONTENT)

Early in the design process, developers chose a diameter of 4.1 meters for the booster stages of the Soyuz-5 rocket. It happened to be the maximum size, which could fit on a railway trailer, thus allowing to transport the rocket's stages from its planned manufacturing site at RKTs Progress in the southern Russian city of Samara.


Zenit facility in Baikonur (INSIDER CONTENT)

The Soyuz-5 project depended on the government of Kazakhstan for funding the conversion of the Zenit-M facility in Baikonur for the new rocket within the Russo-Kazakh Baiterek joint venture.


Moving to Vostochny (INSIDER CONTENT)

Roskosmos considered eventually building another launch pad for the Soyuz-5 rocket as part of the infrastructure for the super-heavy rocket at the nation's Vostochny spaceport.


Soyuz-5/PTK variant

In April 2017, Russian space officials dropped plans to launch the next-generation spacecraft on the modified version of the Angara-5 rocket and instead opted for the yet-to-be developed Soyuz-5 booster recently conceived within the Feniks and Sunkar projects.


Soyuz-6 variant (INSIDER CONTENT)

By 2019, during the ongoing search for an engineering path toward a super-heavy launcher, Roskosmos identified three smaller vehicles which could serve as stepping stones in the decade-long program. One of them was the Soyuz-7 — an entirely new concept, which by September 2019 was renamed Soyuz-6.


Soyuz-7 variant (INSIDER CONTENT)

Also in 2019, Roskosmos assigned designation Soyuz-7 to a modified version of the Soyuz-5 rocket compatible with the Sea Launch platform.


Super-heavy rocket

From the outset of the Soyuz-5 project, it was seen as a building block of a future super-heavy rocket which could rely on the first stage of Soyuz-5 to assemble a rocket cluster with a payload of around 100 tons to the low Earth orbit.

All articles, photos and illustrations inside this section by Anatoly Zak unless stated otherwise. All rights reserved

Last update: December 14, 2023