Angara A5 Launched For The First Time From Vostochny

Almost five years since the foundation stone of the A1 launch complex, on April 11, 2024 the first Angara A5 took off from Vostochny Cosmodrome

On April 11, 2024, at 9:00 UTC, for the first time, an Angara A5 took off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome and transported a simulated load into geostationary orbit.

Angara A5 Launching from Vostochny. Credits: Roscosmos

The liftoff was originally scheduled for April 9. However, an attempt was scrubbed on the launch pad at T-2 minutes due to a malfunction on the central core oxidizer tank. A second launch attempt was scrubbed on Apr. 10 due to a malfunction in the engine start control system.

Almost five years have passed since the foundation stone of the A1 launch complex was laid at the end of May 2019, after numerous delays and postponements.


Modular launchers

The modular universal launcher has always been one of the obsessions of the Soviet space program. Each chief designer of the various design and research centers (OKB) had his idea: from the UR family of Celomej, from which the Proton was derived, to the Vulkan of Glushko, from which the Energia was derived.

Even the N1 lunar launcher, if it had been successful, would have created its own family of vehicles capable of covering all launch needs: from low orbit to interplanetary trajectories.

After the fall of the USSR, Russia needed to replace the Protons which, although reliable, did not guarantee the necessary safety for possible human use due to the extreme toxicity and dangerousness of the hypergolic fuels used.

The abandonment of the Energia Buran program then deprived the nascent Roscosmos, and consequently also the Ministry of Defense, of an instrument that would have had excellent modularity capabilities but which was burdened by high costs.


The Angara family

But, fortunately, the good things that had been developed for the Energia launcher were carried over to other projects.

Its RD 171 engine, a powerful four-chamber closed-cycle engine, has been scaled up in two so-called commercial versions: the twin-chamber RD-180, one of the most reliable and powerful engines in its class, which has equipped US launchers such as the Antares and the Atlas-V, and the single-chamber RD-190/191 which was used as the backbone of the Angara universal launch system.

The URM system (from the Russian Универсальный ракетный модуль i.e. Universal Rocket Module) is made up of two blocks: URM1 at the first stage and URM2 at the second.

Angara URM1 scheme. Credit: Russianspaceweb
Angara URM1 scheme. Credits: Russianspaceweb

Any loads were positioned in orbit by an upper stage which could be different depending on the orbit to be reached.

In its versions, the Angara can have a single URM1 in the first stage plus a URM2 in the second for the 1.2 version, the lightest one. Three URM1s in the first, and a URM2 in the second for the medium A3 version and five URM1s in the first stage plus one URM2 for the A5 version.

All versions of the Angara share the same launch pad, the same assembly building, and the production and storage lines for the fuel, namely RP-1 and the oxidizer, LOX.

In the URM1 block, there is an RD-190 engine which is capable of generating 2.08 MN while the URM2 block is powered by a four-chamber RD-0124 which is the same as the Soyuz 2.1

The Angara Rocket launcher family. Credit: Roscosmos
The Angara Rocket launcher family. Credits: Roscosmos


The first mission from Vostochny

This is not the first launch of a vehicle from the Angara family. This class of launchers has already made its debut, from the Plesetsk military cosmodrome, on Sept. 7, 2014 for the 1.2 version and Dec. 23, 2014 for the A5 version. However, even before that, a strange hybrid, the NARO -1, was launched on Aug. 25, 2009 by the South Korean space agency.

The result of the collaboration, active at the time, between the nascent South Korean astronautics and Roscosmos, NARO-1 was a half Angara 1 as it featured a URM1 first stage, but equipped with a less powerful RD-151 engine instead of the URM2 South Korea used its solid fuel module.

The Angara Nzh on pad A1. Credit: Roscosmos
The Angara Nzh on pad A1. Credits: Roscosmos

In its military career, the Angara family has had six launches under its belt, five of which were completed successfully.

With the completion of the A1 complex, the acceptance test of the full-size model Nzh took place in June 2023. This is a fully functional version of control and fuel systems, which certified the ability of the A1 complex to carry out all phases of an operational launch.

For the first operational launch from Vostochny, it was decided to use a simulated payload that will be placed into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) by an additional stage called Orion.


The future of the Angara family

As mentioned, the Angara A5 will replace the Protons for which the construction of a launch pad in Vostochny has not been planned and whose last two examples will be launched from Baikonur in 2024 and 2025.

Angara A5 on launch pad A1 at Vostochny. Credit: Roscosmos
Angara A5 on launch pad A1 at Vostochny. Credits: Roscosmos

Although the production of the A3 version had been shelved, this has recently come back into fashion in anticipation of its use in place of the future Soyuz-5/Baiterek medium launcher whose development is intended only for the Baikonur cosmodrome due to agreements with the space agency of Kazakhstan.

Even the super heavy A7 version, currently only planned on paper, would not imply changes to the A1 ramp which is perfectly capable of operating with all versions of the Angara launcher. From here it will launch the A5P versions that will carry the first cosmonauts into space aboard the PTK-Orjol spacecraft.

*Cover photo credits: Roscosmos

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Roberto Paradiso

Roberto Paradiso

Banker with a passion for cosmonautics, he tells in his blog, "Le storie di Kosmonautika" and in the book "Noi abbiamo usato le matite!" the history and stories of the Soviet and Russian space program and the people who made it.

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