Angara rocket was announced as future modular launch vehicle for commercial and not commercial use with high potential even covering lifting manned Moon lander. Is it really possible that economical problem would limit possibilities of using new rocket in favor to old launch vehicles and cancel Russian plans for manned Moon mission before 2030 ?
Problems of Russian space industry are nothing new but their scale should really force Russian government to consider if aggressive foreign politic is giving satisfied results. After limiting future plans for developing own Mars and Moon space programs, unknown future of planned Russian space station program (after decommissioning of International Space Station) and redundancies in the space industry plants it was obvious that situation is not as bright as official media would like to be. Gigantic problems with Vostochny Cosmodrome like stretched budget, delays and huge problems with corruption made one of biggest space investments in Russia under question in matter of profitability; it showed alternative face of Russian demo investment. But even after unveiled problems with Vostochny it seemed that presenting new Angara rocket and its further introduction into launch schedule is rather unthreatened. Unfortunately not for long – both Vostochny and Angara rocket future could be not necessary positive. Angara rocket family was developed since 1992 and mainly was created to be launched from cosmodromes in the territory of Russia to omit Baikonur in Kazakhstan. It was based on new RD-191 (fueled with LOX/RP-1) engine by Energomash which could provide enough thrust even for making possible lifting up to 24 t (to 40 t in case of Angara-5V) of payload for LEO (Angara-5 and Angara-5V were planned as potential lifting vehicle for future manned missions to Moon). Until now only two launches were performed, both in 2014: Angara-1.2PP (for testing RD-191 engine and URM-2 upper stage only) and Angara-5 (heavy version with four boosters and core stage). Key for further development of Russian space program Angara-5V is delayed and its first test flight was put into the future over 2025 according to article on Tass news agency web site from January 2016. Only two days before announcing about delay in Angara-5V development, Tass announced, on 20 January 2016, that Vostochny Cosmosdrome will have only one launch pad for heaviest Angara-5V officially due the necessary cost cutting. It is one of the last phases of building Vostochny Cosmodrome which should be commissioned on 2020 so it is rather impossible that in last moment Roscosmos will change mind and put additional pad into the plan. Next information came yesterday – according to Tass, Igor Arbuzov, CEO of Energomash, stated:
“The leadership of the Roscosmos State Corporation has set us the task to optimize the RD-191 engine’s production costs to make the Angara launch vehicle competitive on the world market of space launches,”
It is not good news – for 2016 only one Angara-A5 equipped in RD-191 is scheduled (upper stage will be Briz-M). It will be serious mission with commercial payload but still only one flight per year is not impressive – it seems that Angara-5V strays away simply because of high costs of implementing many new technologies in short time. It is important to remember that Angara is first rocket developed after collapsing of USSR, so since 1991 Russian space industry was rather kind if defensive player. To catch up with the previous twenty five years Roscosmos would need lot of money which in present state of Russian Ruble and low oil prices could become impossible. Putting number of launch pads, for rather crucial rocket for Russian space program, on cost cutting list seems to be clear confirmation that Angara-5V felt into far place of “to do” list for Roscosmos and that ambitious plans will be postponed. It is possible that costs of Angara-5 will be extremely high for Roscosmos and it will remain for a long time rocket for special military tasks or profitable commercial missions where heavy payload should be delivered.
On picture above: Vostochny Cosmodrome, picture taken on July 2015.