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Russia to build new eco-friendly Soyuz-5 rocket by 2022

Soyuz_rocket_assembly Roscosmos image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

A Soyuz booster is assembled prior to a crewed flight to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

The new Russian medium-class Soyuz-5 carrier rocket that will use ecology-friendly fuel – could be built by 2022. This is according to Aleksandr Kirilin, the general director of the TSKB-Progress Space Center in Samara, Russia. The draft design of the rocket is expected to be ready by the end of this year (2015).

“The Soyuz-5 is a medium-class carrier rocket with a launch weight of about 270 [metric] tons,” Kirilin said in an interview with RIA Novosti. “It could replace the Soyuz-2 carrier rockets in the future.”

A Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrone in Kazakhstan NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider - Copy

The Soyuz-5 will utilize methane as propellant. Photo Credit: NASA

The Soyuz-5 launch vehicle is planned to be capable of delivering nine metric tons to a low, circular orbit some 124 miles (200 km) above our world – three times as much as what the Soyuz-2.1b booster can send to orbit now. This new rocket will have two stages and will be capable of delivering a payload to any designed orbit.

“In principle, the scheme allows to add more rocket blocks and make the booster a heavy one, but so far we are concentrating on a 9-ton capacity,” Kirilin said.

The Soyuz-5 rocket could cut costs of space transportation thanks to its reliance on new engines burning environmentally safe and widely available propellant made out of cryogenically cooled natural gas, instead of traditional kerosene.

Both of the rocket’s engines, RD-0164 for the first stage and the RD-0169 for its second stage, will burn liquefied natural gas (methane) for fuel with liquefied oxygen serving as the oxidizer. Liquid methane is estimated to cost up to 30 percent less than kerosene.

“LNG engines are to be engineered from a scratch,” Kirilin noted. “If we talk about advantages of this kind of fuel, LNG is the purest fuel available on the planet – but for hydrogen.”

The upper stage of the Soyuz-5 rocket could be equipped with an upgrade of the existing RD-0124 engine (RD-0124M), modified to burn methane. All of the rocket’s engines are being either developed or proposed by Chemical Automatics Design Bureau (KBKhA) based in the city of Voronezh, Russia.

TSKB has promised to design the Soyuz-5 rocket with 50 percent fewer details and units than the modern Soyuz-2 launch vehicle to reduce the costs of its development.

“We do expect the price of Soyuz-5.1 to be less than Soyuz-2,” Kirilin said.

The company has estimated that it should be able of producing up to 20 Soyuz-5 boosters every year, but that will depend on the number of orders, and whether the new rocket replaces the rockets that it currently manufactures: Soyuz-U, Soyuz-FG, Soyuz-2, and the Soyuz-ST.

TSKB announced the existence of the Soyuz-5 concept in March 2013. In June 2013, the company unveiled a scale model of the rocket at the Paris Air and Space Show in Le Bourget, France.

The first mock-up model of the Soyuz-5 will be presented at the MAKS-2015 International Aviation and Space Show in Moscow at the end of August. If everything goes according to plan, the Soyuz-5 booster would use modified launch facilities of the Soyuz rocket family.

The Soyuz-5 rocket family scale models on display at the Paris Air and Space Show in Le Bourget, France in June 2013

The Soyuz-5 rocket family scale models on display at the Paris Air and Space Show in Le Bourget, France in June 2013. Photo Credit: Nicolas Pillet


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Reader Comments

And the Sarmat liquid fuel ICBM (what kind of liquid fuel?), and Angara 1 & 5 on H+O. Can Russia afford all of this launcher development? Isn’t Angara looking good and enough to replace old Soyuz and Proton? Lots of talk and delays and cancellations and failures. And an oil price at $40.

But I thought that CO2 emissions from burning LNG were eco-hostile?

Looks like everyone is going to methane/natural gas now. I’m not privy to any timelines, quite, so it’s hard to say if SpaceX, Blue Origin, or whom got this movement going. Whomever it is, it’s good to see. Someone has to wear the boots, kick the asses of everyone else in the industry or no progress gets made.

Perhaps “eco-friendly” is a relative term – e.g., it’s MORE eco-friendly than they kerosene they’re using right now. I could be wrong, but I think the most “eco-friendly” fuel is liquid hydrogen – when oxidized with liquid oxygen, it primarily produces water/steam.

The problem there is the cost. The labyrinth seals and the helium purging needed to keep the reactants separated in the engine, things properly purged (liquid hydrogen is second only to liquid helium in coldness, nothing else can keep from freezing on contact with it). It uses a lot of helium, and requires a lot of precision. Kerosene engines you can purge with nitrogen.

Hydrogen is only the more environmental fuel if you don’t include its production in the calculations. There are multiple ways to produce hydrogen, but all of them take energy, and most of them release additional CO2. Let’s be realistic: they aren’t making the fuel by solar water splitting. And then there’s the energy cost of all the cryogenics…

The “Eco-friendly” is a bit of a diversion, if you think about this quantitatively rather than qualitatively. The amount of kerosene burned in a single launch is on the order of that consumed in a single long-distance 747 flight. The environmental impact of, for example, the manufacture of the rocket itself is likely far more important. Some fuels choices might matter from the environmental perspective: hypergolic fuels are pretty nasty (though mainly if they go unburnt), solid fuels with perchlorate oxidizer are polluting even if they function properly. But the switch from kerosene to LNG is not significant environmentally. The real reason for this transition is almost certainly the higher specific impulse of natural gas rockets.

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