A second chance at a Maiden Launch for Angara
Tensions flared, but the rocket didn’t. On June 27, Russia’s experimental Angara 1.2 rocket aborted its maiden launch just fifteen seconds before liftoff. Watching live from the Kremlin was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has put his personal mark on the Angara program and was carefully following up on a review of the failed launch. A renewed effort is schedule for Wednesday, July 9.
While Russia’s Soyuz rockets have been dependable mainstays of spaceflight since the 1960s, the country has struggled to revitalize its fledgling unmanned programs. The suite of rockets Russia currently employs dates back to before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Angara 1.1 and 1.2 are designed to replace the smaller Kosmos-3M, Rockot, and Tsyklon, Angara 3 is expected to replace Zenit, while the heavy-lift Angara 5 will replace Proton. For decades, these rockets have been tweaked and tinkered with, but never replaced wholesale.
Many of these rockets represent Russia’s ongoing reliance on foreign companies and governments in the space industry. Zenit, for example, is manufactured in the Ukraine. After tensions over the Russian annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin’s bid for a homegrown family of rockets to replace the array of disparate designs reliant on foreign technologies gained redoubled significance.
Moreover, even mostly indigenous rockets such as the Proton require a Russian dependence on foreign governments; the rocket is so large that it must be operated out of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Baikonur is also where American astronauts have been departing on Soyuz rockets to the International Space Station (ISS) since the termination of the American Shuttle program in 2011. Angara is almost entirely constructed at Khrunichev Space Center in Moscow, and can be domestically launched out of the northern Russian Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Mirny.
After the June 27 abortive launch, it was determined that the onboard computer detected an anomaly within the rocket’s first stage propulsion system. Reports pointed to a leak in an oxidizer valve.
As Wednesday’s launch looms, Russian officials are again awaiting the successful liftoff of the first rocket designed and constructed after the breakup of the USSR. With President Putin watching, and dependence on Ukrainian components and foreign launch facilities seen as a growing liability, Angara must be capable not only of lifting itself, but the entire Russian space program.
Since 2011 Joshua Tallis has served as the manager for research and analysis at an intelligence and security services provider in Washington, DC. Josh has co-authored several articles in the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International with colleagues from the defense community. Previous work experience includes internships at the U.S. Congress and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Josh is also a PhD student in International Relations at the University of St Andrews' Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. He is a Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Special Honors graduate of The George Washington University where he received a BA in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs.