There is nothing more to say: first launch from new Vostochny Cosmodrome !

UPDATE: April 27, 2016, 02:04 GMT – According to TASS news agency launch was postponed for later hour

Most expensive investment of Roscosmos maybe since collapsing of USSR – new Vostochny Cosmodrome, placed at 51° 53′ N 128° 20′ E in Amur Oblast only 800 km from Pacific Ocean, is definitely icon of modern history of Russian space program. Built to give Russia independence from legendary Baikonur Cosmodrome placed in Kazakhstan (which costs $115 million annually) and became in future place where modern Russian rockets will be launched, is still not finished. With only one launch planned for 2016 and second scheduled for 2017, Vostochny is far away from becoming fully operational. Recent years gave not impressive picture of Russian space industry – corruption problems and huge delays changed image of Vostochny from symbol of prosperity to something most similar to great investments of USSR which were created mostly for propaganda (this is ironic that Vostochny is place near Baikal-Amur railway which was of the symbols of propaganda in seventies and eighties). But this opinion is in fact not true. Vostochny in numbers is making great impression – modern launch pads, comfortable apartments for personnel and high-tech control centers; 551.5 square kilometers, $3 billion spent for at least fifty facilities and whole infrastructure with cosmonaut training center (“Doroga k Zvezdam”), research and development facilities (Akademgorodok”), two residential areas and new airfield, where even largest cargo planes will be able to land (including Antonov AN-124). It is such complicated venture that it would be strange if there will be no delays. Issues with delays could be forgotten along with corruption problems, but in 2016 first scratches on fundament of statue of Russian prosperity under leadership of Vladimir Putin started to appear. First of all, number of planned launches is not impressive – one in 2016 and one in 2017 it is not enough to describe Vostochny as fully operational and probably Baikonur will be still used, until agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan will reach its end, until 2050. Next, number of launch pads designed only for modern Russian rockets like Angara (not to mention about future rockets which are still in development like new Soyuz-5 family by JSC SRC Progress) was reduced to one. Of course it could be easy explained by economic problems, but still sense of building of Vostochny was: new cosmodrome, new rockets. Now it is rather: Baikonur still operating, new rockets planned. In spite of that, it is great day for Russia and historical moment- every man engaged in this venture should be proud, because maybe now new chapter in the history of Russian cosmonautics will open. All what should be done now is giving best wishes to Roscosmos to perform successful launch today!

Soyuz-2.1A with Volga upper stage and MVL-300 are like two symbols of old and new in Roscosmos. Reliable Soyuz, in its most recent version, used also by Arianespace in Guiana Space Center, is probably legend among launch vehicles. During this mission it will be combined with modern Volga upper stage (with first flight performed on December 28, 2013). It will start its 1860th launch in history at 02:01 GMT on 27th April 2016. On atop of this “living legend” we can find MVL-300 Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov-modern scientific satellite designed for research on gamma bursts, manufactured with utilization of Kanopus bus by M. V. Lomonosov Moscow State University and NPO VNIIEM. As additional payload two small satellites will be lifted to orbit: SamSat-218 and Aist-2D. First one is 3U Cubesat by Samara State Aerospace University (SSAU) with mission objective to test attitude stabilizing only with usage of aerodynamic forces. Second is result of the cooperation between Samara State Aerospace University and SRC Progress and will perform tests of new ground-penetrating UHF radar and new type of infrared sensors (it is interesting that Aist-2D weighs 530 kg and is heavier than MVL-300 for around 80 kg).

MVL-300 mission is devoted to measuring and collecting data on influence of ultra-high energy cosmic rays to upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere. Satellite is equipped with various instruments like Tracking Ultraviolet Set Up Detector (TUS) for measuring level of light fluorescence with additional three gamma detectors, BDRG (Block for X-ray and gamma-radiation detection) for monitoring level of gamma radiation, UFFO telescope for studying nature of gamma-bursts. Additional payload will be also optic cameras (ShOK for detecting gamma-bursts), dosimeter (DEPRON), ELFIN-L (combination of magnetometer, detector of energetic particle for electrons and proton detector, designed as cooperation of University of California Los Angeles IGPP/UCLA and Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Lomonosov Moscow State University) and device for measuring microelectromechanical inertial in space called IMISS-1. Impressive payload will be powered by two deployable solar arrays and onboard battery; whole satellite weighs 450 kg and will remain on orbit of for five years.

Volga upper stage was developed and is manufactured by TsSKB Progress. It is able to  inject 1400 kg of payload into final orbit with altitude of 1500 km. Considered as less expensive than Fregat (which costs is result of advanced propulsion with possibility up to twenty firings during mission) was partially based on propulsion utilized in satellites designed by TsSKB Progress in previous years. Propulsion is fueled with UDMH/N2O2 (up to 900 kg of propellant) and it offers thrust at 2,9 kN. Mass of the Volga depends of fuel amount and in fits in range from 1140 kg to 1740 kg, height of the stage is 1 m with diameter of 3,2 m.

This mission is dominated by TSSKB Progress – Soyuz-2.1A is upgraded Soyuz-U is manufactured in Samara facility of Progress. Modified with digital flight control system and new injection system in the first stage, rocket has still origins in R-7 ICBM missile. Modifications were added to provide capability of using Soyuz with large payload fairing (11.43 m long and 4.1 m wide). Four boosters fueled with RP-1/LOX (39160 kg) are powered with single RD-107A engine with thrust at 838.5 kN. Two vernier jets, with 35 kN of thrust each, are providing stabilization. Booster’s height is 19.60 m and diameter is 2.68 m with total mass at 44413 kg. Core stage is powered by one RD-108A engine with thrust at 792.5 kN (stabilization is provided by four vernier nozzles with thrust at 35 kN). Engine is fueled with 90100 kg of RP-1/LOX. Dimensions of the core stage are: diameter at 2.95 m, length is 27.8 m and mass is 99765 kg. Third stage, fueled also with RP-1/LOX (27755 kg of propellant), is powered with single RD-0110 engine with thrust at 297.9 kN. Diameter of the third stage is 2.66 m with length at 6.74 m; dry mass is only 2355 kg. Stabilization is provided by four vernier jets and reaction nozzle.

On picture above: Soyuz-2.1A during preparing before flight with mobile service tower in the background on April 23, 2016.