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Finding a role

Russia's new launcher family is searching for a niche in the market

Tim Furniss/LONDON

A family of new Russian launchers called Angara could be competing in the commercial market by 2001. The Angaras, designed by Russia's Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Centre, will fly from a modified launch pad at Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome, built to fly Zenit 2 boosters but never used. Khrunichev wants to end Russia's dependency on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Funding sources for the Angara are unclear, as is how it would compete in the market. Anatoli Kiselev, director of Khrunichev, has no doubts about Angara's potential, but at the same time offers contradictory views of Russia's future in the launch community.

On one hand, Kiselev says "Russia should be an independent power". But as Khrunichev is part of the ILS International Launch Services organisation which operates Atlas and Russian Proton boosters in the commercial market, it seems logical that Angaras could complement or replace the Proton in the ILS fleet. Kislev says he does not want to jeopardise relations with Lockheed Martin and ILS, but does not rule out the Angara getting "involved in the ILS family".

Lockheed Martin's new Atlas V being developed as one of the US Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV), will probably be introduced to the ILS fleet eventually and the Angara is basically a copy of that booster's concept. Like the Atlas V, the Angara is based on a modular concept built around a core booster.

The largest of the five proposed Angara launchers has a maximum payload to low earth orbit of 28t and can place 7,600kg into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). This means the Angara could be able to compete with the Atlas V (and Boeing Delta IV) EELV and against Europe's Ariane 5.

Kiselev says the Angara launchers will use a common core booster powered by an RD-191M engine with options for two high performance upper stages. Larger launchers would have clusters of core boosters. The smallest, single core booster version would have a 1.5t to low earth orbit (LEO) capability.

The four combustion chamber RD-191M engine, which has a vacuum thrust of 213t and a burn time of 300s, is a version of the liquid oxygen-kerosene RD-170. This engine was developed for the Energia heavylift booster and powers the first stage of the Zenit 2. A derivative, the RD-180, has been developed with Pratt & Whitney to power the new Atlas III fleet, the first of which makes its ILS debut this year.

The Angara upper stages include the Breeze M, being prepared for its first flight on a Proton booster this year, and a new high-energy stage called the KVRB. This cryogenic engine has been under development for use on a new Proton M booster, although this may be superseded by the Angara.

Five versions of the Angara were announced at the Paris air show, but Kiselev says his company is concentrating on just three: two single common core boosters, the Angara A-1.1 and A-1.2, with either Breeze or KVRB cryogenic upper stages, and the A-5, a version with five core stages and the KVRB. The latter will have a maximum capability of 6,800kg to GTO from Plesetsk - or 12,000kg from equatorial sites, such as Christmas Island, in the Pacific Ocean. Talks with Christmas Island have begun.

The A-1.1 and 1.2 are aimed at the emerging LEO market and will complement - and presumably compete - with Eurokot, another venture in which Russia is involved.

The Angara 1.1 could be offered to Europe instead of the controversial Vega booster for which the European Space Agency isstruggling to find support. The Angara 1.1 and 1.2 could place between 2.2t and 3.4t into LEO from Plesetsk. Final design of the A-5 has not been completed, so its configuration may differ, says Kiselev. Production of the core stage has already started, he adds however.

The development of an Angara A-3 with three core stages could also go ahead, but the proposed A-4B, with an enlarged core stage and four original core boosters, is on paper only.

The Angara's lower cost will come from the use of "unified tanks, existing fairings, control systems, upper stages and other off-the-shelf components". The "newest part is the engine", says Kiselev. "The Proton was designed 30 years ago. We now have to build a new - and cheaper - launcher," he says.

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