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Russia successfully launches new-generation Angara-A5 rocket

Anatoly Zak, Spaceflight Correspondent
Dec 23, 2014, 17:55 UTC

Sen—The first heavy launch vehicle developed in the post-Soviet Russia, successfully began its maiden mission on Tuesday.

The liftoff of the Angara-A5 rocket took place as scheduled on 23 December, 2014, at 08:57 Moscow Time (05:57 UTC) from the nation's military launch site near Plesetsk, north of Moscow.

Although the Russian military provided no live coverage of the historic liftoff, the nation's civilian space agency, Roscosmos, confirmed that the flight was underway. According to the agency, the payload section, including a Briz-M upper stage and a mass simulator of a spacecraft, separated from the launch vehicle 12 minutes after the liftoff from Plesetsk.  

The three-stage rocket is expected to demonstrate the capability to deliver a satellite into geostationary orbit with an altitude of 36,000 km above the equator.

"It means that Russia acquired a modern environmentally clean launch vehicle in the heavy class," head of Roscosmos Oleg Ostapenko said, "I congratulate all who was involved in this launch and development of this rocket — designers, engineers, workers and military personnel, thank you for your self-sacrificing work."

Launch of the new Angara-A5 rocket. Credit: Russian Defense Ministry

The introduction of the Angara-A5 marks full independence of the Russian military and civilian space program from former Soviet republics in its launch capability. The rocket was designed to incorporate hardware built inside the Russian Federation and its launch pad is located within the Russian territory.

The new vehicle should eventually replace the Proton rocket, currently the workhorse of the Russian space program, which uses highly toxic propellants. The Proton's launch pads are only available in Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Russia pays more than $100 million annually for the rent of the former Soviet space base. 

In addition to its role as a carrier of military and commercial satellites, Angara-A5 is also expected to launch Russia's next-generation piloted spacecraft and space station modules. For this purpose, the Russian government promised to build another launch facility for Angara rockets at the new Vostochny space center in the Russian Far East.

Vostochny, located almost on the same latitude as Baikonur, will further increase Angara's capabilities, currently hampered by the extreme northern location of its only operational launch pad in Plesetsk. The original decision to base Angara at existing facilities in Plesetsk was dictated largely by post-Soviet economic collapse. The financial problems combined with many technical challenges ultimately dragged the Angara project almost a decade behind its original development schedule.

The Angara-A5's journey to the launchpad. Credit: Russian Defense Ministry

The Angara family of rockets was designed around a modular architecture enabling Russia to build launchers with different payload capacity by varying a number of standard boosters. The light version of the Angara, featuring a single first-stage rocket module, flew a successful suborbital test mission in July.

All but one rocket stage comprising the Angara series use non-toxic kerosene as fuel, and liquid oxygen as oxidizer.