Russia Set to Launch Rocket to Secure Future of Space Industry

Russia is poised to launch its first new rocket capable of carrying heavy payloads since the Soviet era, and a success may unlock the future of the country’s space industry.

The launch of the Angara rocket will take place in the last week of June at the Plesetsk space center in northern Russia, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said today in e-mailed comments.

Russia, which put the first man into space with Yuri Gagarin’s flight 53 years ago, has relied on the Proton rocket, its largest booster, which entered into operation in 1965. It’s planning to use the Angara at Plesetsk and a new cosmodrome in the country’s Far East.

The national space program has 2.1 trillion rubles ($60 billion) of spending planned for 2013-2020, including the completion of the Vostochny cosmodrome near the border with China. Russia currently uses the Soviet-era Baikonur base in Kazakhstan for manned missions.

“Angara is destined to be the main workhorse of the Russian space program,” Yuri Karash, a member of the Tsiolkovsky Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, said by phone from St. Petersburg. “It will be a critical test of Russia’s ability to design and build new space hardware.”

Russia has suffered a series of space accidents in recent years that cost billions of rubles, including the crash of a Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass navigation satellites soon after take-off from Kazakhstan in July last year.

Civilian, Military

Angara rockets have a modular design with a variety of configurations, allowing them to lift payloads from 2 metric tons to 24.5 tons. The light-class Angara will start in mid-year and a heavy-class version at the end of this year, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said in February.

The rocket will be used for civilian and military purposes, including carrying people into space, Karash said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said during a visit to Plesetsk in February that Angara would play a vital role in the country’s defense and space ambitions.

“It will help us maintain our defense capability and the security of our country and carry out space exploration for peaceful purposes and implement programs of international cooperation,” Medvedev said.

Russia, whose Soyuz rockets currently provide the only way for NASA to send astronauts to the International Space Station, has refused an American request to extend the operation of the space station to 2024 from 2020. It plans to reallocate funding from the station to other programs, Rogozin said last month.

Russia’s standoff with the U.S. over Ukraine has strained the countries’ cooperation on space, which had mostly been spared from geopolitical disputes since the fall of the Soviet Union.

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