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Korolev R-7 Rocket Leads The Field For Reliability

The R-7 Semyorka rocket, known in the West as the SS-6 Sapwood.
by Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Mar 06, 2007
The famed R-7 Semyorka rocket (known in the West by its NATO reporting name, SS-6 Sapwood), designed by the legendary Russian engineer Sergei Korolev, has proved so dependable and sought-after that even fifty years after its first launch, it continues to be used for many jobs. One will be to launch payloads from a facility now under construction at the Courou space center in French Guiana.

Anatoly Perminov, head of Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos), has said that in 2006 Russia accounted for 47% of all launches carried out in the world. Adding to those the launches under the international Sea Launch program, which uses the Ukrainian-Russian Zenit rocket, the figure will climb to over 50%. The United States comes second, China and Japan share third place, and the European Union ranks fourth.

Observers agree that today Russia holds very advantageous positions both in orbiting individual spacecraft and in deploying multi-satellite constellations as part of international and commercial programs. A factor contributing to this surge has been the modernization of its launch vehicles (rockets and booster units) carried out between 2000 and 2005.

They are now more energy-efficient, accurate and environmentally-friendly. Ample conversion experience has enabled Russian designers to develop new space rockets quickly and at little expense in the light- and medium-weight classes based on decommissioned missiles. These are the Dnepr, Strela and Rokot.

The picture is summed up by Viktor Remishevsky, Roskosmos deputy head: "By the end of 2005, we had an inventory of 10 types of launch vehicle and three types of booster." They serve to put spacecraft into low, medium and high circular and elliptical orbits of different inclinations, and also to put them on departure trajectories.

The first launch vehicle in the Soyuz series went up in November 1963 (at that time a Voskhod lifted the spacecraft of the same name). A total of 1,160 launches have been made so far. The Soyuz-U is the most used modification of the vehicle (accounting for almost 820 launches). Currently the Soyuz-FG (with a Fregat booster) is manufactured in high quantities. It is designed to deliver human and scientific payloads into near-earth orbits.

The next stage of the R-7's upgrading was to digitize all control processes on board the launcher, improving its orbit injection accuracy almost ten-fold. The size and number of junk-disposal areas were reduced. Testing and pre-launch preparations were automated further.

The new launcher first blasted off from the Plesetsk Space Center in November 2004. Its second launch (from the Baikonur Space Center in October 2006) successfully put into orbit the European Metop-A weather satellite. These launches made use of the so-called 1a modernization phase of the Soyuz-2: the third stage was newly designed but fitted out with an old engine (RD-0110).

A Soyuz-2 launched from Plesetsk in the same configuration on December 24 orbited a new communications satellite, called the Meridian. Three days later, a Soyuz-2-1b lifted off from Baikonur with an entirely new RD-0124 engine as its third stage and a Fregat booster. It put into orbit the French COROT (Convection Rotation and Planetary Transits) satellite to look for planets similar to the Earth outside the solar system. The launching of such a heavy spacecraft by the Soyuz was made possible by increasing the lifting capacity of the vehicle by almost one metric ton. "This rocket has the world's best characteristics in its class - launchers fueled by kerosene and oxygen," Remishevsky said.

This summer, a Soyuz-2-1b is scheduled to go up from Plesetsk, too. According to Colonel-General Vladimir Popovkin, commander of space forces, the Soyuz-2, once it is tested and adopted for service, will replace the currently employed medium-class Soyuz-U and Molniya-M launch vehicles. "The development and flight tests of the Soyuz-2," the commander said, "are a big step toward an optimal fleet of launchers for Russia and its guaranteed access to space to address defense, scientific, social and economic problems." The main distinction of the new launcher is that it is made of only Russian-manufactured components. It will launch from Plesetsk all medium-class payloads both current and planned for the next 10 to 15 years.

To carry out commercial launches from Courou in French Guiana, the 1a phase of the Soyuz-2 is being modified into a Soyuz-ST derivative adapted to equatorial conditions (a different climate, sea transportation conditions, etc.). Another requirement is that parts of a spent launch vehicle must sink upon splashdown.

The agreement between Russia and the European Union to build a Soyuz launch pad at Courou was signed in February 2004. The project's budget is set at 314 million euros, with 121 million euros to go to the participating Russian companies.

The project's basic goal is to launch payloads into geotransitory and geostationary orbits. The first launch is to take place in 2008 and will orbit a telecommunications satellite from Optus, an Australian operator, to broadcast direct TV and carry Internet and telephone messages.

With the Guiana space center located close to the equator, the Russian rocket will be able to lift much heavier spacecraft than when launching from Baikonur and especially Plesetsk. This will offer more commercial opportunities for the Soyuz family of vehicles on the world market of launch services. The Soyuz-ST rocket meant for Courou may also be used in manned programs.

Yury Zaitsev is an expert at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti

Source: RIA Novosti

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