The Vostochny Cosmodrome – a key part of Russia’s future space launch ambitions – has undergone a maintenance period ahead of what will be its second launch. The new launch site is currently dedicated to Soyuz rockets, but will eventually be the future site for the Angara and super heavy launch vehicles.
Vostochny, whose name means “Eastern”, is built on the site of the former Svobodny missile base. Svobodny, which was the farthest East of Russia’s cold war missile bases, was occupied by UR-100K missiles until its closure under the START-II treaty during the 1990s.
After its closure as a missile base, Svobodny was used between 1997 and 2006 for a series of five orbital launches via the Start-1 rocket, a derivative of the Topol missile. Svobodny was closed in 2007 by order of Vladimir Putin, as the Russian Space Agency, Roskosmos, considered the little-used site redundant and expensive to maintain.
As the most southerly of Russia’s launch sites, Russia’s primary launch site, Baikonur, has been the most suited for launches to lower-inclination orbits. With the other Russian site, Plesetsk, too far North to provide a practical alternative, all of Russia’s geostationary missions go through Baikonur, as well as launches to the International Space Station and beyond Earth orbit.
While Vostochny’s latitude of 51.8 degrees North is still higher than Baikonur’s 45.9 degrees, meaning that low-inclination launches will need to expend more fuel adjusting their inclination during flight, it is still usable for geosynchronous missions.
Most importantly, Vostochny will allow Russia to reduce its dependence upon Baikonur – a site which, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, it has been forced to lease from Kazakhstan.
Such will be the reliance on the new site, Roscosmos plans to move 45 percent of Russia’s space launches to Vostochny by 2020, with Baikonur’s share dropping from 65 percent to just 11 percent. This swing will continue to grow until a projected 90 percent of Russian launches start taking place outside of Baikonur.
Its build up towards that key role is being staggered, with only Soyuz rockets launched from Vostochny for the opening years.
That maiden flight, attended by Vladimir Putin, was conducted in 2016, with a Soyuz 2-1A and Volga upper stage lofting the Mokhailo Lomonosov research satellite and two small secondary payloads.
The gap to the next launch will be a lengthy oneo, with the current schedule showing a Soyuz 2-1B/Fregat is set to launch in November with a host of payloads.
The following month a pair of Kanopus-V satellites will also be launched from the new site, atop a Soyuz-2-1A/Fregat.
Launches, again only involving Soyuz rockets, will ramp up in 2018.
The first Angara launch from Vostochny is not currently expected until 2021. TsSKB Progress’ proposed Rus-M vehicle was to have had two pads at the site, however its development was canceled in 2011.
The Soyuz pad at Vostochny, Site 1S, is the eighth Soyuz pad to be built across four different launch sites, following the two complexes at Baikonur, four at Plesetsk and one at Kourou.
Designated 371SK14, the launch equipment resembles that at Kourou, with a mobile service tower instead of retractable arms with gantries that enclose the rocket as used at Plesetsk and Baikonur’s older pads.
Roscosmos recently noted that systems at the new base had undergone a maintenance period noted as an “annual maintenance of technological equipment at the launch and technical complexes and on the equipment of the launching and technical complexes.”
“As part of the maintenance, specialists replaced the oil in the hydraulic system of the Mobile Service Tower, the compressed gas receivers were filled up to the operational volumes, joint inspections of all the systems of the launch complex were carried out.”
Engineers also worked on the propellant loading facilities, including for the Fregat upper stage that will be in action with the next few launches.
All routine maintenance work at the launch and technical complexes and the filling and neutralizing station were completed in full, and the equipment is ready for the next launch.
“Annual maintenance is the most critical stage in the life cycle of rocket and space technology. This is a traditional work for all cosmodromes,” added the Russian Space Agency. “The previous annual technical maintenance of the technological equipment of the space center “Vostochny” was carried out in the third quarter of 2016.”
(Images via Roscosmos).