The Russian space programme has taken what its stakeholders will hope is a giant leap to modernity with the successful maiden flight of the new Angara launcher – the eventual replacement for the accident-prone Proton-M.
The Angara flown from its purpose-built pad at Plesetsk cosmodrome on 2 July – Angara-1.2ML – was a two-stage vehicle with a 1.43t payload mock-up and fairing.
A ballistic flightpath saw the payload fairing and first stage dropped as planned into the Barents Sea. The second stage and payload simulation reached the planned target zone in the Kamchatka peninsula after a flight of 21m and 3,080nm (5,700km).
The flight came almost a year to the day after a spectacular Proton-M failure that ended in a fireball seconds after launch from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, destroying its payload of three Glonass navigation satellites.
The Proton-M returned to flight three months later, but a run of eight successes ended in May 2014 with another failure, 9min after launch.
The Proton has been flying since 1965, but its latest variant, Proton-M, has a success rate of barely 89% over 83 launches. By that measure, the type’s reliability compares poorly to rivals such as the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 and United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV.
Also, while Ariane 5 and Delta IV failures all came early in their run of launches – and might reasonably be attributed to teething problems – Proton-M failures have been traced to various causes and scattered throughout the launch timeline, suggesting persistent quality control shortcomings.
Angara is a modular concept built around common core boosters burning oxygen and kerosene, and can be configured for light, medium or heavy payloads. A prototype of Angara-1.2ML successfully conducted three flight tests as part of KSLV-1, the first South Korean launch vehicle.
The Krunichev space centre is responsible for the system’s development, and its US subsidiary, International Launch Services, will handle commercial sales – as it does for Proton.