Tsar-rocket: Russia starts developing ultra-heavy Soyuz-5 launch vehicle

Tsar-rocket: Russia starts developing ultra-heavy Soyuz-5 launch vehicle
Russia has commenced work on the Soyuz-5 rocket, expected to become an ultra-heavy vehicle for future space exploration missions, Roscosmos head has announced.

A number of Russia’s flagship research and development centers began working on Soyuz-5 project, Roscosmos’ Director-General Dmitry Rogozin said on Twitter. The process would “mobilize all space industry, refresh it and utilize our strong development and production capabilities.”

The first flight model of the Soyuz-5 is likely to be ready by 2022, and the first mock-up model of the rocket has been unveiled at MAKS International Aviation and Space Show back in 2015.

Sources say the 62-meter-long Soyuz-5 is drafted as a medium-capacity launcher with a takeoff mass of about 270 tons. It will replace the lighter Soyuz-2 and will be capable of delivering 9 tons to a low orbit, three times as much as the latest Soyuz-2.1b can do now.

READ MORE: To orbit and back: Russia developing Soyuz-based pilotless craft to retrieve cargo from space

The new booster will be less sophisticated in technological terms, but its price tag will be higher than expected, Russian media reported. Developing the Soyuz-5 would require almost $1bn during the next couple of years, according to Interfax. 

The brand new vehicle will be powered by an RD-171 rocket engine for the first stage and the RD-169 for the second. Both engines will burn liquefied natural gas and liquefied oxygen for fuel. The former “is the most powerful engine in the world,” Rogozin said earlier in July, adding, “we call it the Tsar-engine.”

There are currently three Soyuz-2 launch pads that could be refurbished, which are cosmodromes in Baikonur, Plesetsk and the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. The decision on which one will be used for Soyuz-5 launches will be taken later.

Meanwhile, Soyuz-5’s first stage could be used as the boosters or even core for a super heavy-lift rocket capable of delivering 80 tons to low Earth orbit from Baikonur.

The namesake of the new rocket might be misleading. The Soyuz name means continuity, but Soyuz-5 has nothing to do with the current, time-proven family of Soyuz launch vehicles which evolved from USSR’s very first R-7 rockets. Rather, Soyuz-5 derives from the Zenit booster first developed for Russia’s Energia Corporation and used on Sea Launch.

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