Russia Is Working On A Next-Generation Rocket – But It Is Already A Decade-Old

Russia has reinvigorated its flagship rocket program, the Angara. It is, for all practical purposes, more or less three decades old now. It was first commissioned in 1992, soon after the fall of the Soviet Union. The first test flights were carried out after two decades of initial work on the project. Now, after a gap of ten years, Angara A5 is about to make its fourth flight, and like the three launches before, this mission won’t carry a real satellite.

The upcoming launch is going to a milestone of the heckled project because it would be launched from the country’s far east, the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Previously, the test flights of Angara had all been launched from the military-run Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

Angara is touted to replace the Russian Proton launch vehicle, which uses toxic propellants and is launched from Kazakhstan. Angara would be launched from Russian territory. The Proton was a market leader a couple of years ago, but owing to multifaceted issues, it lost its position. To name a few, the Ukraine war, pressure from SpaceX, and reliability problems, Proton is no longer an elusive satellite carrier.

Angara was supposed to be Proton’s commercial successor, but now it would only serve the Russian government. Angara would take over the responsibility of a few large satellites. Russia plans to launch its next-gen crew spacecraft, Orel, from the Angara A5. However, there is no concrete evidence on the development of Orel or whether it would be ready for launch by 2028. The point of concern here is that Angara may be flying again but does not have many payloads to carry.

The Russian space program has been marred by problems ranging from chronic underfunding to mismanagement and corruption. Angara has the singular honor of being the only rocket Russia has developed from scratch since the 1980s. In 2014, Russia launched the first two Angara test flights, one with a single-booster lightweight version of the rocket, called the Angara 1.2, and another with the heavy-lift Angara A5, made up of five Angara rocket cores combined into one rocket.

The Angara can place payloads up to 24.5 metric tons in the lower earth orbit. The lighter version of Angara, 1.2, has launched functional satellites into orbit twice since 2014, but the heavier version has yet to deploy anything other than dummy payloads. The Angara A5 flight will allow engineers to conduct trials and testings for the upper stage and enable Russia to initiate a second launch pad at Vostochny, which has also been a victim of corruption and delays. Medium-lift Soyuz rockets have been flying from Vostochny since 2016.

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