The Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, are pushing forward with a “light” version of their veteran Soyuz launch vehicle – known as the Soyuz 2.1v. Manufactured by TsSKB-Progress, the new launcher – one that does not sport the famous four boosters around the core stage – will be capable of lofting 2.8 tonnes to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
With the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union shook the world and immediately became the global leaders in the space flight arena. Taking advantage of their early success, the Soviets went on to launch the first human into space, conducted the first space walk, and were primed to beat the United States to the Moon.
The reason for the early success of the Soviet space program was thanks to one brilliant design from one brilliant man, Sergei Korolev.
Since the debut flight in 1957, launch vehicles derived from the R-7 Semyorka ICBM have stayed true to the basic profile first set forth by Mr Korolev, vehicles that utilize a central stage powered by the RD-108 engine, with four boosters powered by the RD-107 engine.
From the dawn of its inception, through to the modern era, this family of launchers have not deviated from this common layout, as the R-7 formed the basis for the Luna, Vostok, Voskhod, Molniya and Soyuz families of rockets. To date, all Soviet and Russian manned spaceflights have been launched using rockets derived from the R-7.
While some concepts – using other engines, such as the RD-120 or NK-33 – have been floated from time to time, none have ever come close to flight status. That is, until now.
Pushing forward with the future use of the veteran launch vehicle, the Soyuz-2 provided the program upgrade for the older and wildly successful Soyuz-U family of rockets.
The variant, known as Soyuz-2-1a, upgraded the Soyuz-U with modern digital electronics and revised upper stage functions. Soyuz-2-1b replaced the upper stage with a new unit, powered by an improved avionics suite and more powerful engine. The Soyuz-ST – flown out of Kourou, French Guiana – provided a customized version of the Soyuz-2 for use by the European Space Agency (ESA).
The next stage in the program’s development is aimed at replacing the 55 year old design for the first stage and its boosters. This initiative came after successful inaugural flight of the Soyuz-2-1b in 2008, with final approval granted for what is known as the Soyuz-2-1v program.
The Soyuz-2-1v marks an increase in the first stage diameter from 2 meters to 2.7 meters, and replaces the aged RD-108 with a new engine. The vehicle will carry over the control and guidance systems from the Soyuz-2-1b and will interface with the already existing ground support equipment.
Per an array of presentations in the L2 Russian Section – L2 LINK – the vehice stands 44 meters tall on the launch pad.
Replacing the legacy R-7 first stage and boosters, the new first stage sports a replacement engine, designated as the 14D15, built by the NK Engines Company. Images of the engine show it is based on the NK-33, from Korolev’s ambitious moon rocket, the N-1.
This engine’s stats include a thrust rating listed at 1,545 KN (Sea Level), 1,720 KN (Vacuum), with a Thrust Specific Impulse of 297.6s (Sea Level), 331.2s (Vacuum), with a thrust range of 55 percent to 100 percent of rating.
Documentation also shows another engine on the core, called the 12D24, or RD-110R. The 12D24 handles the vector and roll controls for the first stage, also allowing the 14D15 to be easily mounted to the rocket structure.
The stats for this engine include a thrust rating listed at 24.28 KN (Sea Level), 27.81 KN (Vacuum), with a Thrust Specific Impulse of 260.5s (Sea Level), 298.3s (Vacuum), while the dry weight of the engine is 425 kg, compared to 1,250 kg for the 14D15.
In addition, the new launch vehicle is slated to use the new Volga insertion stage. Said to be cheaper than the Fregat stage currently in service, the Volga will cater for orbital insertion to orbits as high as 1700 km.
Built to endure up to 24 hours of operation – with multiple restart capability – the Volga is targeted at the largest base of Fregat customers on the Soyuz, those seeking mid to high orbits.
This unit has been developed internally by TsSKB, who are aiming to ensure the Volga will be compatible with the entire Soyuz-2 fleet of launch vehicles.
The company predicts it could replace the more expensive Fregat on half of missions it is currently used for.
The engine details for the Volga Upper Stage have not been disclosed at this time.
The most striking element for the Soyuz 2.1v is the removal of the distinctive boosters that are usually seen surrounding the core stage. However, careful examination of the booster reveals that there is still provision to add four boosters to the design as a potential upgrade path for the future.
Several concepts relating of this projected upgrade have appeared over the years, but have remained on the drawing board. One such upgrade is called the Soyuz-2-3, which sports boosters using the RD-0155 engine, RD-193 engine or RD-120 engine.
The design of these boosters have varied over time, but a model on display in Vienna last year shows a vehicle with four cylindrical boosters topped with a nose reminiscent of that found on the Energia.
Further evolution is noted in the notional Soyuz-3 project, which replaces the Soyuz-2 upper stage with a new unit, based on a Hydrogen-driven – as opposed to Kerosene – Soyuz-2 upper stage, using the new RD-0146 engine co-developed with Pratt & Whitney.
The first flight unit of the 1v was completed in June, prior to being shipped to the launch site at Plesetsk for its anticipated launch this September. TsSKB officials have stated several times that their goal is to have the 1v launched before the maiden flight of the Angara, due next year. They appear on target to meet this goal.
The first test stage of the 1v was rolled out on January 6, 2011 from the Zagorsk testing facility in Peresvet Russia, just north of Moscow. It has since been used for several engine tests relating to the fuel system, tank pressure testing etc – with the latest test occurring on June 22nd.
The first full-up firing of the complete first stage is slated for this month (August), set to take place at the Zagorsk facility – which has been home for rocket stage testing since 1949, following the inaugural test of a Russian copy of the German V-2 rocket.
Notably, Orbital’s Antares launch vehicle also utilizes engines derived from the NK-33 – the Aerojet-supplied AJ26-62. While the Soyuz-2-1v uses one main engine – with a separate engine for vector and roll control – Orbital will use two AJ-26′ together, in order to handle vector and roll control requirements.
With the upgrade path laid out for the Soyuz, documentation shows that the Soyuz-2-1v will continue to fly out of the existing Soyuz-2 launch facilities, without the need for pad modifications. It was noted there are evaluations ongoing into basing flights out of three sites in total, namely Plesetsk, Baikonur and Vostochny.
However, there are no evaluations into launching the new vehicle out of Kourou – in support of the joint Russia-ESA operations – at this time.
With the introduction of the Soyuz-2-1v, the future of the Soyuz launch vehicle in Russia’s future seems secure.
(All images via L2 documentation and photo collections – Soyuz at Kourou via ESA).
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