Russia’s Angara 1.2 Rocket Succeeds in Inaugural Flight, Khrunichev Says

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PARIS — Russian rocket builder Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center said the long-delayed debut of its Angara rocket on a suborbital mission dubbed Angara 1.2PP — or 1.2 Inaugural Flight — was successfully completed July 9 from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

Russian officials hope the success will usher into operation a cleaner-flying vehicle that can be launched independent of other nations’ approval. Angara is viewed as an eventual replacement for Russia’s heavy-lift Proton rocket, which uses highly toxic fuel and is launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin used his Twitter feed to announce the rocket’s success, but Russia’s Roscosmos space agency did not immediately report the flight results.

Moscow-based Khrunichev, which is also prime contractor for the Proton — whose performance has been spotty in recent years — said the flight of the 1.2 version of Angara, the vehicle’s lighter variant, successfully delivered a dummy payload for Russia’s Ministry of Defense into the specified suborbital trajectory.

The two-stage Angara 1.2 uses liquid oxygen and kerosene. Khrunichev said the rocket’s first stage and payload fairing fell into the preselected zone in the southern Barents Sea, and that 21 minutes after liftoff both the second stage and the dummy payload fell onto a test zone on the Kamchatka Peninsula some 5,700 kilometers from Plesetsk, which is located in northern Russia.

If Angara delivers on its promise, the long-delayed family of vehicles will enhance Russian space autonomy by launching from Russian territory, using all-Russian components, and with a drop zone for vehicle components that is in the sea or on Russian territory.

Proton, as well as all of Russia’s human spaceflight missions, launch from Baikonur. Russia and Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, have frequently had public disagreements over issues including Baikonur leasing fees and the fact that spent stages from Baikonur-launched rockets sometimes land on Kazakh territory outside designated drop zones.

Elements of the Angara vehicle have been tested on three missions of South Korea’s KSLV-1 rocket, whose first stage is of Russian design and manufacture.

Angara’s debut launch was conducted under a live media blackout, with word of the launch’s initial success only trickling through a few minutes after the rocket cleared the tower. Zvezda, a media outlet with close ties to the Russian Ministry of Defense, was the first to present a 30-second clip of the booster’s liftoff. 

Shortly after the launch, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had reported the launch as a success to the head of the Russian armed forces.

The statement also said that Shoigu would take personal command over the creation of a new “universal launch complex” and related infrastructure to support launches of the entire Angara family from Plesetsk.

Shoigu will monitor the progress of work on these sites using video cameras, much like Rogozin has set up throughout the Vostochny Cosmodrome, where he is on the lookout for “slackers.”

Angara’s first test flight is an important milestone for the post-Soviet Russian space industry, which has maintained Moscow’s access to space by modernizing reliable Soviet-era vehicles like Proton and Soyuz. 

Low salaries and uncertain futures have sapped the space industry over the years, prompting many analysts to express doubt that Russia was capable of designing a new booster.

 

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Matthew Bodner contributed to this story from Moscow.