A heavy-lift launch vehicle is viewed as one of the core capabilities needed for long range space exploration and both NASA and China’s space programme have committed to building this type of launch vehicle. To stop the Russian space programme falling behind, the new head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, Oleg Ostapenko has formallly committed the Russian space programme to build its heavy lift rocket which would be roughly equivalent in performance to NASA’s SLS. Like NASA’s SLS, the proposed Russian heavy lift launch vehicle will have an initial lifting capacity of 70 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO).
The exact configuration is yet to be decided. NASA’s SLS is going to use a LOx/Liquid Hydrogen powered core (using modified former Space Shuttle RS-25D main engines) with a LOx/Liquid Hydrogen upper stage and solid rocket boosters for its initial version, but with the potential to use LOx/Kerosene boosters for a later heavier lift “Block 2″ version.
China, on the other hand, looks set to use a LOx/Kerosene YF-650 engines to power both the boosters and main core stage for its heavy lift launch vehicle using LOx/Liquid hydrogen for only its upper stage.
While Russia has expertise in building cutting edge LOx/kerosene engines using the most efficient cycles, it left its LOx/Liquid hydrogen RD-0120 main engine technology behind when it gave up using its previous Energia heavy lift launch system which launched only twice during the Soviet era. The RSC Energia firm has suggested however that the Energia technology could be recovered to build a new heavy lift design.
Russia, of course, remains hampered by its main heavy lift launch site locations (Baikonur and Vostochny) being so far North of the “optimum Earth spin boost” at the equator. Hence Russia will have to build a better performing rocket, just to stay on equal payload terms with its Chinese and US competitors.